GOLDSTEIN: China lied, people died — who will hold the regime accountable?

In assessing the global public health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of China’s dictatorial government in initially suppressing vital information about the virus must be universally condemned.

But will it ever happen?

China first contacted the World Health Organization about COVID-19 on Dec. 31, 2019, soothingly claiming what we now know is a highly-contagious, potentially deadly coronavirus, was “preventable and controllable.”

But a March 23 reconstruction of events by the National Review — “The Comprehensive Timeline of China’s COVID-19 Lies” — convincingly argues that by the time China finally acknowledged on Jan. 20 that COVID-19 was capable of human-to-human transmission — having previously suppressed growing evidence of this going back to mid-December —  it was already too late to stop its global spread.

A review of cell phone transmissions by the New York Times published March 22 — “How the Virus Got Out” — shows that by Jan. 20, millions of people had already been in and out of the pandemic’s original epicentre in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, where it is believed to have originated in a seafood and live animal market.

This was due to the lead-up to China’s lunar new year celebrations, where widespread travel by rail and air is common, as families reunite.

Thousands of travellers, unaware they were infected with COVID-19 while in Wuhan, initially spread the coronavirus inside China, and then globally, mainly by air travel.

While this was happening — as reported by David Staples of the Edmonton Journal on March 24 — China was receiving gushing praise from the World Health Organization and public health officials in Canada for its efforts to contain the virus.

This after the Chinese government — far too late — began locking down Wuhan and other cities starting Jan. 23.

China’s defenders — some might say apologists — argue they were worried about unfair blowback on Chinese citizens and racism against those of Chinese origin abroad.

Of course it’s unfair to blame either group for the spread of COVID-19 and this must be condemned by all decent people. But neither concern justifies downplaying the responsibility of China’s dictatorial government for the spread of COVID-19.

Many ordinary citizens in China, who have suffered because of COVID-19, are furious about their government’s initial attempts to suppress and censor vital information about the virus.

That anger erupted in China when it was revealed Dr. Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old ophthalmologist who was the first to warn medical colleagues about the emergence of the new virus, died in Wuhan Central Hospital of COVID-19 on Feb. 7, after being reprimanded by authorities, along with eight colleagues, for telling the truth.

Following his death, the Chinese government exonerated Li.

The reality, as reported by The Associated Press on Feb. 7, (“Whistleblower doctor’s death unleashes mourning, fury at Chinese officials”), is that China’s ruling dictators are regularly criticized by their own people for initially suppressing the truth about public health crises, including the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, another coronavirus which originated in China and killed 44 Canadians.

It’s time China’s dictators — not its people and not Canadians of Chinese origin — were held to account for the enormous damage they’ve contributed to inflicting on humanity.

Given China’s global economic and political power, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.