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‘Misleading’: HHS Calls Out WaPo Story Implying Trump Lied About Coronavirus Knowledge

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  • The Department of Health and Human Services criticized the Washington Post Monday for a “misleading” story that implies President Donald Trump’s administration lied about knowledge of the coronavirus.
  • HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley also noted that “WHO information was incorrect and relied too heavily on China.”
  • HHS made multiple attempts to send a team of American experts to China during the months of January and February, she told the Daily Caller News Foundation, but WHO did not ultimately send a team until February 16.

The Department of Health and Human Services criticized the Washington Post Monday for a “misleading” story that implies President Donald Trump’s administration lied about knowledge of the coronavirus.

The Washington Post ran a Sunday story describing how 17 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) employees worked at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, including 16 staff members from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The story notes Trump’s accusations that the WHO failed to communicate the gravity of the coronavirus, and implies that Trump had “real-time information” about the virus transmitted through HHS workers present at the WHO.

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an email that “the Washington Post story is misleading,” and particularly emphasized that the following sentence is misleading: “The presence of so many U.S. officials undercuts President Trump’s charge that the WHO’s failure to communicate the extent of the threat, born of a desire to protect China, is largely responsible for the rapid spread of the virus in the United States.”

Oakley said that the presence of CDC staffers at WHO “allows the United States to develop global health strategies and bring our scientific expertise to global health.” There were seventeen HHS staff present at WHO in January 2020, Oakley said, noting that “these people were not all working on COVID-19 and had no role in decisions made by WHO leaders (emphasis hers).”

“Furthermore, I’d add that just because you have Americans embedded in WHO providing technical assistance does not change the information you are getting from WHO leadership,” Oakley added. “We have learned now that WHO information was incorrect and relied too heavily on China.”

Both HHS and the CDC offered “multiple times” to send a team of American experts to China during the months of January and February, Oakley said, noting that HHS Secretary Alex Azar pushed World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “to have the WHO get boots on the ground ASAP.”

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But this did not happen until February 16, after China had still not properly communicated the dangers of the virus, she added, providing the DCNF a timeline of both WHO’s and China’s procrastination.

On January 3, CDC Director Redfield both emailed and spoke directly with Director of the China CDC Dr. George Gao, Oakley said, after which Redfield spoke with Azar and HHS notified the National Security Council (NSC). The following day, Redfield again emailed Gao and offered CDC assistance, saying, “I would like to offer CDC technical experts in laboratory and epidemiology of respiratory infectious diseases to assist you and China CDC in identification of this unknown and possibly novel pathogen.”

On January 6, Redfield sent a formal letter to the China CDC offering full U.S. CDC assistance at the request of Azar, Oakley said. On January 14, WHO tweeted that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China,” a tweet relying on information from Chinese authorities which has been demonstrated to be false.

Finally, on February 16, an international joint mission led by WHO arrived in China and met with their colleagues from China for the first time, according to Oakley. This mission included Cliff Lane from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Weigong Zhou from the CDC, Oakley said.

WHO, rather than criticize China for the delay in providing information on the virus, has repeatedly regurgitated Chinese propaganda and appears to have run interference for them during the global pandemic. Tedros even praised China for the country’s “transparency” on the virus – though China attempted to cover-up the outbreak.

“We should tell the truth,” Tedros said in February when asked if the Chinese government “approached the WHO to ask it to stand up and say that China is doing a good job” in preventing the outbreak. “And that’s the truth. China doesn’t need to ask to be praised.”

“China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response,” he also said on Jan. 30.

“The real question is, why did WHO leadership not press China harder and publicly for transparency, and why did it accept blindly the information China was producing,” Oakley asked. “The lack of transparency aided and abided by WHO leadership hampered understanding of the virus and delayed the global response.”

President Donald Trump has not directly criticized China in recent weeks, but he frequently has criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for being  “China-centric,” and cut off U.S. funding for the WHO on Tuesday.

“The WHO’s reliance on China’s disclosures likely caused a twenty-fold increase in cases worldwide, and it may be much more than that,” Trump said April 14. “The WHO has not addressed a single one of these concerns nor provided a serious explanation that acknowledges its own mistakes, of which there are many.”

The Washington Post has not responded to a request for comment from the DCNF.

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