Coronavirus: US reiterates call for Beijing to allow CDC experts in; Pompeo offers US$100 million in aid

Robert Delaney

The US government on Friday reiterated a call to Beijing to send US medical experts to China as part of efforts to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus and pledged to spend up to US$100 million to assist the country and others impacted by the contagion.

"Our longstanding offer to send world class experts to China remains on the table,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters in Washington, adding that the US had identified 13 experts to be part of a proposed 25-person World Health Organisation team to assist Chinese specialists trying to bring the outbreak under control.

"These are virologists, drug development experts and epidemiologists who would be part of that team. We continue to expect fully that President Xi will accept that team that the WHO has put together,” Azar said.

“We have made the request now for almost a month, to say we are ready, willing and able,” he added.

Azar said US-China cooperation on public health matters stretched back decades, and pointed out that there are CDC members permanently stationed in Beijing as part of Washington’s health attache mission there.

If US experts are let into China, Azar said they could help Chinese authorities get to the bottom of “uncertainties” such as the virus’s exact incubation period, its severity, and the real risks posed by asymptomatic transmissions.

US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said in a press briefing last week that the agency in particular was seeking data on cases caused by contact with individuals who did not present any signs of the illness, which could provide key insights into how the disease is spread and how dangerous it is.

“The Chinese have reported evidence of transmission in the asymptomatic phase, based on data that they have reviewed. The CDC has not been given an opportunity to review that data,” Redfield said at the time.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at an event in San Francisco in January. Photo: AFP

“What we say is that we have not been able to confirm by data the impact of transmission during the asymptomatic phase.

“The Chinese believe they have that data, so our hope is that we could get directly involved in China to be able to review and be more definitive.”

Separately on Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the US$100 million offer and noted that his department has “facilitated the transportation of nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials

Pompeo called the materials given so far and aid that Washington is earmarking “a testament to the generosity of the American people”.

Chinese data shows 82 per cent of coronavirus cases deemed mild, WHO says

“This commitment – along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector – shows strong US leadership in response to the outbreak,” Pompeo said, adding that the commitment would be met through existing funds “both directly and through multilateral organisations”.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump expressed confidence in China’s efforts to contain the outbreak, saying the drive would be a “successful operation”.

In a tweet on Friday, before Pompeo’s statement and Azar’s press briefing, Trump said he had a long and “very good conversation” with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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