Anxious Atmosphere in China as Xi Jinping Limits Coverage of Respiratory Outbreak
It's challenging to ascertain the credibility of information emanating from China and passing through the WHO and CDC, given that the public has generally lost confidence in both organizations.
A new “mysterious” illness has fallen on the Chinese people. Currently, the claims are that it has similar symptoms to that of pneumonia, influenza, or RSV, with children being hit the hardest. Patients are presenting at hospitals and clinics with high fever, congestion, and cough.
Concerns were raised after a ProMED notification was issued on November 21st, that said hospitals in Liaoning, Beijing, and other cities were “overwhelmed with sick children,” and schools and classes were “on the verge of suspension”. ProMED noted China’s history of not being forthcoming with information concerning viral spread saying, “Parents questioned whether the authorities were covering up the epidemic.”
Jennifer Zeng, a member of the International Press Association posted an image on 𝕏 this past Saturday reportedly showing test results from a patient seen at the 961st Hospital of the Joint Logistics Support Force of the People’s Liberation Army in China who tested positive for the five following viruses:
Over the course of the last week or so, images and videos have surfaced from China showing overcrowded hospitals, with parents using wagons to wheel sick children in by the dozens for infusions. These videos have an eerie similarity to the early videos the world saw coming out of China before the emergence of COVID-19 in late 2019.
Zeng also posted images from the Pediatric Department of Huadu District People’s Hospital on Saturday showing a packed waiting room that extended down hallways.
Zeng also reported on Sunday the Sanhe City Hebei Province (河北三河市) Emergency Rescue Center has sent out personnel wearing “BigWhite” suits to sterilize and disinfect school campuses in the area.
Chinese officials recently responded to an inquiry from the World Health Organization (WHO) last week asking for more detailed information on the recent “increase in respiratory illnesses and reported clusters of pneumonia in children”, saying they don’t believe it to be a new pathogen, but rather a surge in the standard seasonal flu. “Chinese authorities advised that there has been no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens or unusual clinical presentations,” read the update. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has denied hospitals being overwhelmed with patients.
The WHO’s statement also blamed the recent uptick of sick Chinese citizens on “the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, mycoplasma pneumoniae (a common bacterial infection which typically affects younger children), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19)."
Echoing this sentiment was the deputy director and chief epidemiological expert at the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Wang Quanyi, who in an interview with state-run outlet Beijing News, said China has simply"entered a high incidence season of respiratory infectious diseases."
Much like the Covid era, the WHO recommended in their inquiry that Chinese patients get vaccinated, social distance, stay home, wear masks, and regular hand-washing.
Alex Wu, a reporter for Epoch Times reported on Tuesday, that he spoke with a whistleblower using the pseudonym Yang Qing (to protect his anonymity) who explained, “China’s domestic media have also been told that they aren’t allowed to focus on the epidemic.” Chinese media were told to avoid using the term “Covid” at all, and instead refer to the outbreak as a “respiratory illness”.
Based in Beijing and having ties to the General Office of the CCP‘s Central Committee and the military, Qing told Wu this directive was most likely to save face during Xi’s recent appearance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held in San Francisco.
“Xi doesn’t want this matter [the outbreak] to be highlighted on the world stage and wants to prevent it from being used to say that his foreign visit failed,” Qing told Wu.
Propaganda populating across social media showing packed pediatric hospitals and clinics is causing similar panic as the videos coming out of China during the COVID-19 pandemic. This, coupled with the CCP holding back the number of patients infected, and warning media not to discuss the topic is making it impossible to measure the scope of the epidemic spreading across China.
Seeking answers, Members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, on behalf of the Health and Oversight subcommittee Republicans, wrote a letter on Wednesday, November 29th, asking the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) to provide them with bi-weekly updates on the situation, noting the general public’s loss of trust in the organization.
Also noted in the letter to the CDC, signed by Committee on Energy and Commerce Chair, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair, H. Morgan Griffith, and Subcommittee on Health Chair, Brett Guthrie, is the fact that the CCP has been known to withhold information, referencing their reluctance to share updates during the COVID era:
“The Centers for Disease Control and Protection’s (CDC) failure to communicate accurate information in real-time during the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined public trust in the agency. If the CDC is to regain credibility with the American people, it must be transparent and forthcoming with the information it has on public health threats facing our nation.”
The letter from the committee asks for the following questions to be answered by the CDC on or before December 13th, two weeks from its being issued:
Has the CDC engaged with or interacted with its Chinese counterparts with respect to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases and undiagnosed pneumonia?
If yes, when did the CDC and its Chinese counterparts first interact with respect to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases and undiagnosed pneumonia? Who initiated this interaction?
At any point did the CDC’s Chinese counterparts withhold information or fail to respond to the CDC in a timely manner with respect to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases and undiagnosed pneumonia? Please detail each instance and the topic of inquiry that prompted such failure to respond in a timely manner.
What specific information, if any, has the CDC sought from China with respect to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases and undiagnosed pneumonia?
What specific information, if any, has the CDC received from China with respect to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases and undiagnosed pneumonia? Please detail the length of time it took China to respond to each inquiry for information.
What specific response efforts, if any, has the CDC offered to take part in with respect to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases and undiagnosed pneumonia?
What specific response efforts, if any, has the CDC taken part in, is actively taking part in, or plans to take part in with respect to the increased incidence of respiratory diseases and undiagnosed pneumonia?
Has specific information on the outbreak been communicated to relevant federal agencies and/or key stakeholders, including:
The Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR);
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA);
The National Institutes of Health (NIH);
The Surgeon General;
Department of Defense;
Other Federal entities; and/or
State and local public health officials
It’s difficult to determine if the information coming out of China and being filtered through the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC is to be taken as gospel with the general population having lost trust in both organizations.
This doubt is something that Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has run several tabletop exercises in years past to determine how to handle the public after it lost trust in the institutions. This includes Event 201, which happened just weeks before the announcement of Covid infections, on October 18, 2019.
These fictional exercises run through hypothetical scenarios where novel viruses have spread across the globe and how the use of media messaging can be effective in quelling panic, as well as how to market new vaccines. Game theory, essentially.
SPARS 2025-2028: A Futuristic Scenario for Public Health Risk Communicators is another exercise run by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security whose purpose they say in a December 16, 2021 statement is“to illustrate the communication challenges that could erupt around the development and distribution of novel and/or investigational drugs, vaccines, and other therapeutics in a future public health emergency.”
The disclaimer for SPARS 2025-2028 reads as follows:
“This is a hypothetical scenario designed to illustrate the public health risk communication challenges that could potentially emerge during a naturally occurring infectious disease outbreak requiring development and distribution of novel and/or investigational drugs, vaccines, therapeutics, or other medical countermeasures. The infectious pathogen, medical countermeasures, characters, news media excerpts, social media posts, and government agency responses described herein are entirely fictional.”
The SPARS exercise was comprised of the Expert Working Group on Medical Countermeasure (MCM) Communication Strategies, a “26-person Expert Working Group included risk and crisis communication scholars; MCM developers, producers, and regulators; practitioners in medicine, public health, and pharmacy science; and experienced public health emergency managers.”
The NIH’s National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information published the following on May 30, 2018:
“The team began with the focal issue—what is the future of emergency communication about MCMs during the next 10 years?—and then considered the key economic, environmental, political, social, and technological factors they felt were likely to emerge in that time frame. The team, which included subject matter experts in epidemiology, public health preparedness, risk communication, and the biological and social sciences, then decided which factors seemed inevitable given present conditions and which were the most likely to affect the direction of the scenario. With these influential trends in mind, the team created a matrix of 4 possible futures and ultimately selected a world composed of socially isolated and highly fragmented communities with widespread access to information technology—dubbed ‘the echo chamber’—in which to develop storylines for the fictional scenario."
Both Event 201 and SPARS 2025-2028 closely monitor developments on social media platforms and mainstream media channels.
From the hypothetical SPARS 2025-2028 scenario; page 25:
“In order to overcome the public’s disinterest, the CDC and FDA, in concert with other government agencies and their social media experts, began developing a new public health messaging campaign about SPARS, Kalocivir, and the forthcoming vaccine, Corovax. The purpose of this campaign was to create a core set of messages that could be shared by all public health and government agencies over the next several months during which time the SPARS vaccine would be introduced. Even though the disease was less fatal than initially thought, it remained expensive to treat in its severe form and even mild cases had substantial impacts on economic productivity across the country.”
Apart from utilizing messaging, they depend on leveraging celebrities and political figures to disseminate their message to the public.
These scenarios discuss what to do when the public has waned confidence, and even how to deal with protestors in person and online who didn’t want to take their hypothetical vaccines. SPARS 2025-2028 has an entire chapter on how to combat “anti-vaccination activists”.
Here’s one excerpt from Chapter 13:
“With the exception of this last group, none of the anti-vaccination movements were cohesively organized initially, existing primarily in small, isolated pockets across the country. The general antivaccination proponents, however, existed as a core, national group long before the SPARS pandemic. Following the 2015 measles outbreak in the United States, this group united online. By 2016, they had created several primary Facebook groups and numerous Twitter accounts and began using hashtags like #NoVaccines4Me and #VaccinesKill. The anti-vaccination movement migrated to ZapQ upon its emergence in 2022 due to its ability to combine feeds from across multiple platforms, including realtime text, picture, and video messages from members as well as select traditional media posts such as videos, texts, or streaming news feeds on a single interface that could be used on IAT and other mobile platforms. Additionally, through their ability to control group membership, these groups ensured that they would not be exposed to pro-vaccine “propaganda” from pharmaceutical companies, the federal government, or public health or medical authorities. By 2026, many core members of the anti-vaccine movement obtained their national news almost exclusively from anti-vaccine ZapQ sites.”
Expanding on the SPARS hypothetical pandemic exercise, there is an exploration of strategies for managing vaccine-related injuries. Additionally, the scenario delves into the potential actions Congress might take in the event of prolonged consequences or permanent disabilities, necessitating emergency funding for compensation. Numerous potential scenarios have been thoroughly analyzed through tabletop exercises. You can explore the comprehensive catalog of completed projects conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security here.
In a recent meeting held on October 24, 2023, CDC Director Mandy Cohen conferred with Dr. Tom Inglesby, the Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The focus of their discussion was centered around identifying effective strategies to rebuild public trust in these institutions in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which a significant amount of trust was eroded.
Only a day ago, Mandy Cohen, the Director of the CDC, provided testimony to the House Commerce Committee discussing strategies for "Rebuilding Trust" during the Flu Season. You can watch it in its entirety here.
*Note, the audio doesn’t come in until 2:47 :
China’s outbreak could be the next worldwide pandemic we’re faced with, or it could simply be the seasonal flu. What is definite is that various institutions are closely monitoring online discussions within communities regarding the virus(es?) in China. These institutions are strategically planning their communication through media channels to influence their desired outcome. Given our awareness of the media's role in shaping narratives, it is crucial for individuals to conduct thorough research and not unquestioningly accept information presented to them.
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