08:34 GMT24 February 2020
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    The severity of the coronavirus outbreak is being blown out of proportion by Western media for political purposes, KJ Noh, a peace activist, scholar on the geopolitics of Asia and frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissident Voice, told Radio Sputnik Monday.

    A Politico article published Monday titled “China says US action ‘spreading fear’ as mainland death toll hits 361,” notes that “China has blamed the United States for spreading fears about the coronavirus and accused Washington of doing nothing to help contain the outbreak.”

     

    There is truth in the accusation made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Noh explained to Loud & Clear hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

    “I think that the infection rate is not extraordinary. It’s probably less than SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome], and also the death rate is going down. Currently, the recovery rate - that’s about 475 cases - has exceeded the death rate. So, the tide is turning. And also the rate of infection outside of Wuhan, which itself has been quarantined, is falling everywhere. So, there is definitely an alarmist mindset which is spreading. And that’s a key part of the problem right now,” Noh explained.

    When this article went to print, 20,438 cases of the deadly virus had been reported worldwide. The total number of deaths is 425, with 414 of those having occurred in China’s central Hubei Province, where the virus originated. Meanwhile, 626 people worldwide have recovered, with 386 recoveries taking place in Hubei.

    Last Monday , the World Health Organization (WHO) applauded Beijing’s response to the crisis, despite reports that China has not been accurately reporting deaths caused by the virus and how “testing woes” affected China’s ability to respond to the crisis.

    According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who had recently returned from meeting with Chinese leaders in Beijing, Chinese officials have demonstrated their commitment to halting the spread of the virus.

    “I think it’s really important to look at what the WHO itself said,” Noh told Sputnik. “It said that the Chinese government had met this crisis with an unprecedented response, that China was setting new standards for outbreak response and that there would have been many more deaths outside of China if not for the government’s actions. It said that the government should be congratulated for its extraordinary measures, and it pointed out China detected isolated sequences [of the virus] and shared this information and has a total commitment to transparency around this.”

    “So, there is really no reason to criticize or be afraid of this situation. It’s a disease that is clearly less lethal than MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrome] or SARS. Its rate of infections seems to be fairly low. The mortality rate appears to be around the 2% mark,” Noh explained, noting that between 10,000 and 25,000 people in the US have died from influenza since October, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Understanding the timeline of events surrounding the virus sheds light on China’s swift response, Noh pointed out.

    “The first outbreak was recorded - not reported, but recorded - on December 8, and then between December 8 and 18, there were between two and seven cases that were considered to be problematic. So, the government started an investigation, and then it finished its investigation. And on December 30, it reported it to the WHO and shut down markets, at which point the WHO advised against restricting travel, because nobody had died from human to human transmission. There was no sustained human to human transmission suspected,” he said.

    “It wasn’t until January 9 that one person died: a 61-year-old that had comorbidity with liver disease and a tumor in his abdomen,” Noh noted. “And so the Chinese government probably moved as quickly as it could have. On January 23, it engaged in a quarantine of Wuhan. On [January] 22, it told people to wear masks, and since then, it’s been moving with incredible speed and efficiency.”

    “The response of the US government has largely been to use this as a political tool to attack and demonize China,” Noh explained. “If they hadn’t done anything, they would be considered negligent; because they have done something, they are human rights violators. And even so, even though they are moving as fast as they can and doing the best that they can, it is still a cause to stoke the China hatred and engage in schadenfreude.”

    “It’s a complete, total disinformation campaign. The first confirmed death was on January 9, and it wasn’t until five days later that there was suspected human-to-human transmission. That was merely a suspicion, and within one week, the country had shut down and quarantined an entire city. So, these are extraordinary measures, but the US is, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said, it is creating and spreading fear and where countries, instead of working together, are using it to take advantage of another people’s precarious position,” Noh explained.

    An article published in the Wall Street Journal Monday argues that the virus has “disrupted world-wide trade and supply chains.”

    The article then goes us to explain that “Chinese growth for 2020 as a whole was already widely forecast to slow further from last year’s 6.1%, a three-decade low, with many analysts, speaking after the trade deal, predicting about 6%. Now, economists say those forecasts are optimistic.”

    “I think the US has to be very careful. It’s true that the growth rate is expected to slow to around 5.6%. But this will also affect the annual growth rate of the entire planet, so the global growth rate will probably slow by about one fifth, to 2.3%. And the stock market is affected. It’s gone down 8% in China,” Noh noted. 

    “But the fact is that to use this as a way to beat up on China and exaggerate - remember, what is dangerous about this epidemic is not the disease itself, but it’s the fear and hatred - that is really the virus we are facing,” he said.

    “Once we start going down that line of thought and once you start provoking xenophobic ideology, then it’s going to come back and bite you, because there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that seems to point out there is some design to this. It’s not just economic. Some of these effects are deliberate,” Noh added.

    US quarantine measures were announced Friday, with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar explaining that any foreign nationals, other than immediate family of US citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled to China within the preceding 14 days could be denied entry into the US. Additionally, US citizens who have been in China's Hubei Province, where the virus originated, "will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they’re provided proper medical care and health screening.”

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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