Before coronavirus, China bungled swine epidemic with secrecyWatch
(Reuters) - When the deadly virus was first discovered in China, authorities told the people in the know to keep quiet or else. Fearing reprisal from Beijing, local officials failed to order tests to confirm outbreaks and didn’t properly warn the public as the pathogen spread death around the country.
All this happened long before China’s coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed more than 3,000 lives worldwide in less than three months. For the past 19 months, secrecy has hobbled the nation’s response to African swine fever, an epidemic that has killed millions of pigs. A Reuters examination has found that swine fever’s swift spread was made possible by China’s systemic under-reporting of outbreaks. And even today, bureaucratic secrecy and perverse policy incentives continue undermining Chinese efforts to defeat one of the worst livestock epidemics in modern history.
Beijing’s secretive early handling of the coronavirus epidemic has troubling similarities to its missteps in containing African swine fever, but with the far higher stakes of a human infection. After the coronavirus was found in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, local and national officials were slow to sound the alarm and take actions disease experts say are needed to contain deadly outbreaks. Beijing continues to gag negative news and online postings about the disease, along with criticism of the government’s response.
With swine fever, Beijing set a tone of furtiveness across government and industry by denying or downplaying the severity of a disease that the meat industry estimates has shrunk China’s 440-million-hog herd by more than half. The epidemic has taken a quarter of the world’s hogs off the market, hurt livelihoods, caused meat prices to spike globally and pushed food inflation to an eight-year high.
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