President Trump on Friday insisted that China must have the most coronavirus deaths in the world given its size and the fact the pathogen sprung from one of its major cities at the end of last year.
“We don’t have the most in the world — deaths. The most in the world has to be China,” he said. “They must have the most.”
The president slammed China after it increased its official death toll by 50% in Wuhan, the city where the outbreak began.
Beijing now says 3,869 died within the large city in Hubei Province, an increase of 1,290 from the previous tally of 2,579.
Officially, the U.S. has the most deaths in the world, at nearly 37,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Mainland China has reported 4,636 overall.
Chinese officials reportedly adjusted their Wuhan numbers because of people who died at home, lags in reporting from various entities and the fact medical personnel were more focused on treating the crush of cases instead of reporting deaths.
The revision was intended to show accountability. Instead, it will fuel widespread doubts about the communist government’s reporting and handling of a pandemic that upended the world.
Chinese authorities were slow to sound the alarm at the end of December and the start of the new year. Then, whistleblower doctors were stifled in mid-January.
Beijing is also under pressure to explain what sparked the virus. It is widely believed to be natural in origin, with bats as a natural reservoir and other animals serving as a potential pass-through to humans.
Early reports blamed a “wet market” with live animals in Wuhan, though others want to know if the pathogen accidentally slipped out of a high-level lab in the city.
“We’re looking at it, a lot of people are looking at it,” Mr. Trump said of the claims.
Mr. Trump said the right bat wasn’t sold in that “wet zone,” presumably meaning the wet market.
At the same time, Mr. Trump has been reluctant to attack Chinese President Xi Jinping, who controls the centralized communist government in Beijing.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi struck a phase-one trade deal earlier this year and were set to negotiate phase two when the pandemic hit.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” Mr. Trump tweeted Jan. 24, as the virus swamped Wuhan.
One week later, Mr. Trump decided to ban foreign nationals who’d been in China over the past 14 days from entering the U.S.
The president said his move prevented a far worse outbreak, though critics say he squandered that time by failing to set up a robust diagnostics program and medical supply chain during February.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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