As the 13-member WHO team stepped out of their two-week quarantine in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Thursday to begin probing the origin of the Covid-19 virus, a motley group of Chinese citizens will be tracking their activities and statements.
They want answers – primarily, why was there a delay last January in making the information public that a contagious virus was spreading in Wuhan?
Zhang Hai, 51, thinks he lost his father to the deadly infection because that critical piece of information was missing when he brought the senior citizen for a leg surgery from Shenzhen city to Wuhan last January.
Though not very optimistic, Zhang hopes that he would get an opportunity to talk to the WHO team – a prospect which is increasingly looking bleak after he and other disgruntled family members of victims were blocked out of Chinese social media to begin with.
The itinerary of the 13 WHO experts, expected to be here for two weeks under global glare, wasn’t revealed by the Chinese foreign ministry on Thursday.
It is expected that they will interact with Chinese scientists and experts, visit the seafood market linked to the first cases and interact with doctors at hospitals that dealt with the deluge of Covid-19 patients in Wuhan.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian said on Thursday that all activities of the group should comply with the principles of scientific traceability of the virus and should be used to prevent future risks and protect the safety and health of the people’s lives are the highest goals.
“Highest goals”. That’s the phrase Zhang did not agree with during the interview with the SNN.
Zhang said when he reached and admitted his father to a hospital on January 17, nobody told him about the coronavirus – by January 17 at least one person had already died of the virus.
Zhang’s father died of the infection on January 30 after slipping into a coma.
Since then, he has been trying to get some answers.
“I openly advocated to pursue the responsibility of Wuhan authorities on Weibo (China’s Twitter-like service). But my Weibo account was censored. Wuhan authorities covered up the epidemic…The cover-up was deliberate murder, I think,” he said.
“My six Weibo accounts were deleted”.
The family’s lawsuits were not accepted by the court, Zhang said.
“Our WeChat group was blocked when the WHO team came to Wuhan. This means that Wuhan authorities are afraid of the families contacting the WHO experts. I think authorities here have a guilty conscience.”
Zhang hopes that the WHO team could meet the families of the victims and hear their experience.
There seems to be little chance of that happening though with Washington and Beijing already involved in a war of words over the team’s visit.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, new White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said it was “imperative we get to the bottom” of how the virus appeared and spread worldwide.
A “robust and clear” probe is required, Psaki said.
Beijing expectedly snapped back on Thursday, warning the US to “respect facts and science, respect the hard work” of the WHO experts.
They must be allowed to work “free from political interference”, Zhao said.
For people like Zhang, the geopolitics involving the deadly virus is meaningless.
“I believe if they did not cover up and took measures earlier, the virus could be controlled. I am not afraid because I am telling the truth. I want to tell the authorities that I will continue to talk until they… meet our demands. I did not frame the story. Everything I said just now is true.”