Senior World Health Organization (WHO) Official Dr. Bruce Aylward was asked point blank on February 24 whether the Chinese government had censored early coronavirus data, to which he responded that he “didn’t look.”
Aylward is a senior advisor to the WHO director general and led a “fact finding” mission in China from Feb 9 to Feb 24 to study the coronavirus. He praised the the Chinese government’s handling of the disease at great length at a Beijing press conference summarizing the mission’s findings, until a BBC reporter pressed him on China’s history of censorship, according to a transcript of the event.
“My question to you is this: You obviously spoke to people in Wuhan, the doctors, the people on the front lines. What extent do you think cover up and censorship played a role in allowing the virus to accelerate at the rate it did?” the reporter asked during the Q&A segment.
Aylward responded by saying his mission in China was focused on what worked, not what went wrong. (RELATED: US Ramps Up Crackdown On China’s Spying Efforts During Coronavirus)
“Whether other factors such as the one you mentioned, play a role, I don’t know, frankly, didn’t look at that. I’m just being completely honest,” he said.
Aylward had boasted earlier on in the press conference that his team had “interrogated” hundreds of front-line workers across China to get a “coherent picture” of the epidemic.
Aylward spoke of China’s handling of the coronavirus in glowing terms throughout his presentation. He called China the “first line of defense” in preventing the international spread of the virus. Reports indicate that China cut off travel from the Hubei Province to the rest of China on January 23, but did not impede residents from traveling internationally until January 27, despite a peak in outbound traffic due to the Lunar New Year over those same days.
The WHO has been widely criticized in recent weeks for parroting data from the Chinese Communist Party. The U.S. intelligence community had reportedly concluded by mid-March that China was falsifying its data on both COVID-19 cases and deaths. (RELATED: Top WHO Official Won Election With China’s Help)
President Donald Trump cut off funding for the WHO on Tuesday, pending a review of the organization. The U.S. contributes up to $500 million annually to the organization’s budget, compared to China’s roughly $40 million.
Aylward himself met controversy in early March when he cut off an online interview with a Hong Kong news outlet after the reporter implied Taiwan wasn’t part of China. The Chinese government does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state.
U.S. politicians have begun calling for punitive action against both the WHO and the CCP. The most aggressive of those calls has come from Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who introduced a bill to allow U.S. citizens to sue China for coronavirus damages. It would also establish a State Department task force to lead an international investigation into China’s handling of the virus and to explore way to “compel” restitution from Beijing.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the Chinese Communist Party’s lies, deceit, and incompetence caused COVID-19 to transform from a local disease outbreak into a global pandemic,” Hawley said in a statement.
“We need an international investigation to learn the full extent of the damage the CCP has inflicted on the world and then we need to empower Americans and other victims around the world to recover damages. The CCP unleashed this pandemic. They must be held accountable to their victims.”