The Morning Jolt


Don’t Trust the Chinese Government’s COVID-19 Timeline

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a poster of late Li Wenliang, a Chinese ophthalmologist who died of coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan, Prague, Czech Republic, March 27, 2020. (David W Cerny/Reuters)

There is no Morning Jolt this Friday. Happy Easter in advance.

Just When You Thought You Had Heard Everything about China’s Wet Markets . . .

Today’s “I can’t believe that” report about wet markets in China, called to my attention by Morning Jolt reader David, is that apparently quite a few vendors use cooking oil that has been pulled from waste from sewer lines and other extraordinarily unsanitary locations:

China’s food safety problems have no better symbol than the illegal and utterly disgusting problem of gutter oil. Cooking oil is used heavily in Chinese food, so some street vendors and hole-in-the-wall restaurants buy cheap, black market oil that’s been recycled from garbage. You read that correctly. Enterprising men and women will go through dumpsters, trash bins, gutters and even sewers, scooping out liquid or solid refuse that contains used oil or animal parts. Then they process that into cooking oil, which they sell at below-market rates to food vendors who use it to cook food that can make you extremely sick.

That report is from 2013; reports in December 2019 indicated the practice is disturbingly common and cited a report calculating that one out of every ten meals in China is prepared using “gutter oil.”

Some will argue this points in the direction of a lab accident theory, as who knows what kind of material comes out of the sewer lines of the Wuhan Institute of Virology or Wuhan Centers for Disease Control, and whether someone could have used waste material that was carrying SARS-CoV-2 to create their “gutter oil.” (Animal blood, urine, and guano carry the virus.) Others will argue the practice of collecting “gutter oil” points away from the labs, back to the idea of the virus jumping to humans at the Huanan Seafood Market, because any place where the sanitary practices are so spectacularly reckless makes the natural transmission of the virus from a bat or pangolin a strong possibility.

I can’t believe China doesn’t have debilitating mass food poisoning on a regular basis.

In Wuhan, the wet markets are open again, although Bloomberg News reports from the city “the now-famous Huanan market remained closed this week, even as Wuhan gradually reopened. The smell of seafood wafted on the street, though the market was boarded up and guarded by police who stopped people from taking photos.” That report offers a spectacular understatement: “Although there are well-managed, hygienic wet markets in and near bigger cities, hygiene can be spotty, especially in smaller communities.” Perhaps to avoid running afoul of government censors, reporters on the ground in China have to soft-pedal anything that paints that country in a bad light. Because when vendors are pulling cooking oil out of sewers, I don’t think “spotty” is really the best adjective.

That report also notes:

Under pressure in February as the virus spread, the National People’s Congress announced a ban on trading wild terrestrial animals for the purpose of eating.

Still, the NPC’s decision didn’t cover the trade of exotic animals for use in traditional Chinese medicines, fashion or entertainment. Chinese medicine holds that some exotic animals have health benefits and has helped fuel the illegal smuggling and trade of species like the endangered pangolin, whose scales are believed to cure a variety of ailments.

The only ways that those wet markets and China’s wild animal trade get shut down are the governments of the rest of the world get together and force Beijing to shut them down — with regular access to outside observers to ensure they stay shut down — or some sort of dramatic change in the government of China.

Notice that the United States has shut down, by one estimate, 82 percent of all U.S. counties — that generate 96 percent of our national output! — to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus . . . and the Chinese government won’t even shut down the wet markets that it claims were the source of the virus. Is the world paying attention?

By the way, the official death toll in Wuhan is 2,571 as of April 7. But separate calculations of the number of urns purchased by funeral homes and the cremation capacity and use of the cremation ovens put the death toll somewhere between 42,000 and 46,800.

The Chinese Government’s Fictional Timeline

If you want a good laugh, compare the Chinese government’s official timeline of the virus, which contends “cases of pneumonia of unknown cause” were only detected in “late December,” with the one I put together a few weeks ago. You know, the one with links to all sources. (I cannot express the astronomical frustration with the ninnies on social media who dismiss these reports with ‘it’s all BS’ when, with less than a calorie of effort, they could click through and see that the information is accurately quoted.)

I guess that timeline depends on how the Chinese government defines “late,” as the Chinese CDC itself previously said they noticed cases starting on December 21, and the first symptoms in the first patient manifested December 1. That genomic study found “an early expansion” of cases on December 8. By Christmas, hospitals in Wuhan had already quarantined doctors who had treated patients and caught the virus themselves.

The only mention of Dr. Li Wenliang in the Chinese government’s timeline is on March 19, marking the Wuhan Public Security Bureau’s decision to revoke the previous reprimand letter and apologize to Li’s family over the mistake. Someone who read this timeline as their only source of information on the virus would have no idea who this doctor was or why the security bureau reprimanded him or subsequently apologized.

Speaking of timelines, our Dan McLaughlin noticed that the Pentagon’s National Center for Medical Intelligence “issued a vigorous but carefully worded denial” regarding yesterday’s report by ABC News:

“As a matter of practice, the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters. However, in the interest of transparency during this current public health crisis, we can confirm that media reporting about the existence/release of a National Center for Medical Intelligence Coronavirus-related product/assessment in November of 2019 is not correct. No such NCMI product exists.

While it’s possible that the NCMI is engaged in some sort of sinister cover-up, it’s also possible the center detected the Wuhan outbreak and wrote reports on this sometime in December, and ABC’s sources are just misremembering when it happened. ABC is running with the angle that hits the Trump administration hardest — “parts of our government knew of the threat in NOVEMBER!” — when the accurate angle is almost as effective — “parts of our government knew of the threat in DECEMBER!”. What’s revealing is that, as far as we can tell from the ABC report on the page, they didn’t know this contradicted the Lancet report.

No, Trump Did Not Take Sufficient Steps to Prepare America in Late Winter

I find the argument about whether President Trump did enough as the coronavirus approached or not pretty tiresome. In January and February, the president made many, many statements that suggested the coronavirus would be no big deal.

The strongest step President Trump took during that time was the January 31 rulings that all Americans returning from China had to quarantine for 14 days, instituting health screening at three international airports, and declaring that foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States for this time. That’s not nothing, and it is worth remembering, Joe Biden responded that day:

We have right now a crisis with the coronavirus emanating from China a national emergency, and, you know, worldwide alerts. The American people need to have a president who they can trust what he says about it; that he is going to act rationally about it. And moments like this, this is where credibility of a president is most needed as he explains what we should and should not do. This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science.

While Biden never explicitly said, “We should not have this travel restriction in place,” he certainly didn’t offer any comment that suggested this was the correct move, and the rote denunciation of Trump’s “hysterical xenophobia” would easily leave audiences thinking that the travel restrictions from China were an irrational overreaction, driven by anti-Chinese animus.

But a lot of Trump fans prefer to focus upon that action because there weren’t many other actions, and the implication is that based on what was known at the time, that action was sufficient. Many other countries had determined that there were already coronavirus cases in their borders. The first coronavirus case had been announced in Washington State on January 15, two weeks earlier.

But by the time the president announced the travel restrictions on China, the coronavirus had spread well beyond that country; those who were unknowingly infected were still going to be entering the United States from other countries. And this morning we learn two new studies of cases in New York found that travelers brought in the virus mainly from Europe, not Asia.

By January 31, Hong Kong and Italy had declared states of emergency, Mongolia, Russia, and Vietnam had closed their borders with China, most Asian countries had barred entry to Chinese tourists, and most airlines had canceled flights to Chinese cities.

President Trump announced restrictions on travelers from Europe on March 11. By that point, Italy had more than 12,000 known cases.

ADDENDA: I don’t frequently quote the Bible, but this verse about hope feels fitting for the coming days:

Human beings swear by someone greater than themselves; for them an oath serves as a guarantee and puts an end to all argument. So when God wanted to give the heirs of his promise an even clearer demonstration of the immutability of his purpose, he intervened with an oath, so that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us.


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