Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma): Weekly Chat - June 4, 2020

Rep. Tom Cole: Communist China’s coronavirus cover-up

The United States recently surpassed more than 100,000 precious lives lost to COVID-19. As we sadly know all too well, along with the staggering human cost, this pandemic has disrupted every corner of American society and life as we know it – wrecking thriving economies, shuttering businesses, killing jobs and threatening livelihoods. While these hard and fast hits seemingly came out of nowhere, the wrath of this invisible enemy could have been quelled and lives protected worldwide had the Communist Chinese Party issued warnings upfront and told the truth about early evidence. Instead, the regime sat on potentially lifesaving information, allowing spread to occur for weeks before taking any action to protect even its own citizens.

Though it’s unclear who was first infected or when and how transmission of this coronavirus occurred, some of the earliest confirmed cases have in common going to a wet seafood market in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. And as early as December 10, we know that a vendor there had pneumonia symptoms due to an unknown cause and was hospitalized several days later. By the end of the month, many more similar cases were reported in the city of 11 million people, and Chinese doctors caring for patients in the region warned the country’s health authorities that the disease was caused by a SARS-like coronavirus and that they believed it could spread easily between people.

Despite early concerns and warnings, Chinese officials played down the potential risk of the disease, withheld information from the public, failed to take precautions and delayed notifying global health partners. In fact, doctors who raised alarm were even arrested for sharing information and reprimanded for spreading “rumors” and “lies.” Meanwhile, information referencing SARS was then censored online and on social media within the country.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) China Country Office was finally alerted on December 31 about pneumonia cases with unknown causes detected in Wuhan City, Taiwan officials also notified the WHO that same day raising concern that Chinese health workers were reportedly getting sick. Taiwan’s information, which pointed to suspected spread between people, was not shared with other countries. The very next day, gene sequencing companies and labs, studying and discovering the similarities of the virus to SARS, were then told by an official at the Hubei Provincial Health Commission to stop testing samples and destroy existing ones. The WHO didn’t publish anything about the virus until January 5, and at that point, it was stated: “Based on the preliminary information from the Chinese investigation team, no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission and no health care worker infections have been reported.”

After hearing about the mysterious outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control immediately volunteered to send a team to help investigate, but China declined the assistance. And for several more days in January, the Chinese population was kept in the dark. On January 9, it was finally confirmed to the public that there was a new coronavirus outbreak, but the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission falsely insisted that person-to-person spread was unlikely. Rather than take precautions at that point, Chinese authorities continued to allow large public gatherings and widescale domestic and international travel, which included millions of people coming in and out of the country – and specifically into Wuhan City – for Lunar New Year celebrations. One of the gatherings in Wuhan City included more than 40,000 families sharing 14,000 dishes. By January 20, cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in four other nearby countries. Two days later, the WHO China office admitted to earlier evidence of human spread.

Unfortunately, by the time China acknowledged the risks and called for a mass quarantine in the new coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan City, it was already too late to prevent it from spreading globally. And on January 24, the first U.S. case – a recent American traveler to Wuhan City – was confirmed. Just five days later, President Trump formed the Coronavirus Task Force. And on January 31, he suspended U.S. entry of visitors from China and mandated quarantines for those allowed to enter who may have been exposed to this coronavirus. While the president was unfairly criticized for this move at the time, imagine how much worse the alternative might have been if he had not “overreacted” early on.

Months later, this COVID-19 pandemic has now sickened nearly 6.5 million people and claimed more than 383,000 lives around the globe. Unfortunately, as talented as our own scientists and researchers are, there’s still a great deal of mystery surrounding the origin of the coronavirus that causes the deadly disease. While early cases have been traced back to the previously mentioned wet seafood market in Wuhan City, it is also worth noting that two nearby labs coincidentally conduct regular research specifically on coronaviruses and that the U.S. State Department previously raised concerns about safety in those labs after visiting in 2018. Regardless, China’s tight grip on what was known and when makes it much more difficult to plan for and prevent similar pandemics. But what we do know is that the communist Chinese regime willfully chose to hide and destroy critical information, punish and silence those who issued warnings and then blatantly lie about it. Undoubtedly, there’s still a lot being hidden even now. For example, several early coronavirus critics, including a doctor and two citizen journalists in China, have since vanished.

Indeed, it will take years to clean up the mess caused by communist China’s outrageous coronavirus cover-up. However, I am encouraged that the Trump Administration is working to hold China accountable and counter the regime’s harmful actions and propaganda. Moreover, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have formed a China task force to coordinate legislative actions and policies.

There is no doubt that China is a great and rising power. It is the most populous country in the world and has the second largest economy. The Chinese people are talented, hardworking and the heirs to one of the greatest and most enduring cultures in the world. They, too, suffered greatly from the failure of the Chinese Communist Party to handle the coronavirus crisis competently and transparently.

But if China is to assume its position as a world leader, it must learn to be a responsible global player that accepts its fair share of responsibility and plays by the rules of international behavior expected of a great power. In the case of the coronavirus crisis, it most definitely did not. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people around the globe needlessly suffered and died. That is a responsibility that the Chinese Communist Party cannot escape and must accept if it is to have any credibility on the global stage.

Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his eighth term in Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the House on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.

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