US Feds Were Unprepared to Meet First American Evacuees from Wuhan, Report Finds

Federal officials at a California military base last year who met with the first American evacuees from Wuhan, China, the place where the coronavirus emerged, were not prepared for their mission, according to The Washington Post.

They did not wear masks and had “no virus prevention plan or infection-control training” when they met with the evacuees, the Post said, according to two federal reports the newspaper said it has obtained.

The newspaper reported on its website late Thursday that the reports supported “a whistleblower’s account of the chaos as U.S. officials scrambled to greet nearly 200 evacuees” who eventually did not test positive for the coronavirus.

The whistleblower’s complaint, however, resulted in “internal reviews by the Health and Human Services Department and an investigation overseen by the Office of Special Counsel,” the Post said.

According to the newspaper’s account, the federal officials who first interacted with the Wuhan evacuees at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, were instructed to remove their protective gear when meeting with the evacuees to avoid “bad optics.” (bad appearances)

The Health and Human Services general counsel’s office, headed by Robert Charrow, a Trump appointee, conducted a campaign against the whistleblower among members of Congress who received from HHS an account of what the agency said was the whistleblower’s conflicting information. That HHS move was “reprehensible,” Special Counsel Henry Kerner said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday. Kerner praised the whistleblower’s “tremendous courage in bringing these allegations forward.”

There are more than 101 million global COVID-19 infections, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Johns Hopkings Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Friday. The U.S. tops the list with more than 25 million cases, followed by India with 10.7 million infections and Brazil with 9 million. More than 2 million people have died from the disease, Hopkins said.

A World Health Organization team of investigators, having completed a14-day quarantine, began working Friday in China on their mission to uncover the origins of the coronavirus.

One of the investigators’ first stops was the hospital in Wuhan where some of the first COVID patients were treated.

The WHO team is also expected to visit a Wuhan seafood market associated with the first cases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and a lab of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 and has since spread around the world.

More than 120 countries have called for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, with many governments accusing China of not doing enough to contain its spread.

Letitia James, the New York state attorney general, said Thursday the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo has severely undercounted the state’s COVID-19 nursing home deaths. She suggested that the count was off by as much as 50%.

New York’s Health Department corroborated James’ suspicions later Thursday, adding more than 3,800 deaths to nursing homes, increasing the nursing home death toll by 40%.

The new nursing home number does not change New York’s death toll, however, but it does bring into question the state’s policy of returning nursing home residents who had been treated in hospitals for COVID back to the nursing homes. Cuomo maintains he was following federal guidelines.

Health officials in South Carolina say they have detected two cases of the South African COVID-19 variant, the first cases in the United States.

So far, the variant does not appear to cause more serious illness, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that “preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants.”

“That’s frightening,” because it means there are likely more undetected cases within the state, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said in an interview with CBS News. “It’s probably more widespread.”

Officials say the two South Carolina cases do not appear to be connected or travel related.

It is normal for viruses to mutate. So far, variants from Britain and Brazil have also been discovered.

Japan’s top government spokesman said Thursday that AstraZeneca will make more than 90 million doses of its vaccine in Japan.

“We believe it is very important to be able to produce the vaccines domestically,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

Like many countries already carrying out vaccination campaigns, Japan plans to prioritize front-line medical workers when it begins administering the shots in late February.

Japan has arranged to buy 120 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The vaccine requires a two-shot regiment for each person.

The European Union and AstraZeneca clashed this week after the company said it would have to cut planned deliveries to the EU due to production delays.

EU officials are demanding the doses be delivered on time and have threatened to put export controls on vaccines made in EU territory.

Source: Voice of America