Chinese Covid-19 disinformation campaign has 'cost lives' MPs claim

6 April 2020, 06:49 | Updated: 6 April 2020, 06:56

MPs have accused China of spreading disinformation
MPs have accused China of spreading disinformation. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Disinformation from China and other countries about the Covid-19 pandemic is hindering the fight against the disease and costing lives, MPs have warned.

Right from the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing set out to "obfuscate" what was really happening.

Politicians from the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said that China should have played a central role in collecting data on its spread as the country when the outbreak started.

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The committee called on the British Government, and international allies, to actively "confront and rebut" disinformation coming from foreign powers.

The report also pointed the finger at Iran and Russia as being responsible for fake news around the Covid-19 virus and suggested other countries were also involved.

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Its main criticism, however, was reserved for China. It highlighted the way Li Wenliang, the doctor in Wuhan who first raised the alarm about the new disease, was forced to confess to "making false comments" before his death from the virus in February.

"Such deliberate misleading of the WHO (World Health Organisation) and scientists in other countries obscured analysis in the critical early stages of the pandemic," the committee said.

"Disinformation about Covid-19 has already cost lives. It is essential that the Government issues clear and transparent messages at home to confront and rebut disinformation spread by foreign powers.

"It must also work closely with allies to present a united front where possible, and to help ensure that vital international research efforts are not compromised by propaganda and bad data."

Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said Beijing had initially "allowed disinformation to spread as quickly as the virus".

He added: "Rather than helping other countries prepare a swift and strong response, it is increasingly apparent that they manipulated vital information about the virus in order to protect the regime's image.

"The Government needs to tackle these lies with a clear and quick response, working with our allies to show a united front in the face of false facts and deadly disinformation."

The committee also criticised the lack of international coordination in the effort to combat the disease and stop its spread.

It called for the creation of a "G20 for public health" to enable co-operation between expert researchers around the world to flourish, even in the absence of united political leadership.

"It is clear that existing regional and multilateral organisations, including the WHO, are not achieving the international co-operation needed to fight a global pandemic," it said.

"Although the Government is focused rightly on resolving the current crisis, it would be a catastrophic error to de-prioritise learning lessons from this pandemic and implementing them before the next one."

A Government spokesman said: "Coronavirus is a global challenge and it's vital that countries come together to tackle this shared threat.

"The UK is coordinating closely with international partners to shield our citizens from disinformation so they can get the right information to protect themselves and save lives."

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