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China Denies Suppressing Info About Coronavirus, Despite Widespread Criticism for Lack of Transparency. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 16, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Thank you so much, Dr. Lisa Dabby. And thank you for the work that you and the healthcare workers around the country are doing. We really appreciate it.


TAPPER: While the Trump administration is now focusing on a claim that the virus originated in a lab in China, we're going to take a look into some of the deceptions that we've heard from Chinese officials about the virus.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Health officials around the world say there is no question coronavirus outbreak began in China, but today, U.S. intelligence and national security officials say they're investigating the possibility the virus spread from a Chinese laboratory and not as originally believed from a market in Wuhan, which is what the Chinese government originally claimed.

U.S. officials do not say they believe the virus was spread intentionally or purposefully in anyway, but they are looking into whether it originated from the lab and then spread accidentally. It is, of course, premature to draw any conclusions.

But the Chinese government's lack of transparency and its sharing of erroneous information, not to mention its cover-up has certainly not inspired confidence among world leaders. Today, the U.K. also called for a, quote, deep dive review of the Chinese government's early handling of the pandemic.

CNN's David Culver reports from Shanghai.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the start of the outbreak, this is where China directed the world's attention, suggesting that this Wuhan seafood market was the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak. CNN even traveled there just before the city locked down in January. Officials had shut down the wet market, and security told us to leave.

U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN they are investigating another possible source, suggesting the virus may not have originated naturally as China has advertised but rather that it possibly started in a Wuhan lab. Sources say it is one of many origin theories the U.S. is looking into.

Chinese officials pushing back against that claim on Thursday. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson dismissing that the virus started in a lab, instead stressing that, quote, this is a scientific issue that should be studied by scientists and medical experts.

Yet, it is the same spokesperson who last month floated a controversial theory, tweeting that it might be the U.S. Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: China tried to say at one point, maybe they stop now, that it was caused by American soldiers. That can't happen. It's not going to happen. Not as long as I'm president. It comes from China.

CULVER: The latest debate over the virus' actual origin coincides with a damning "Associated Press" report. It claims China sat on critical information for six full days from January 14th until January 20th, downplaying the outbreak in public before finally revealing the full scope of the threat.

The "A.P." report is based on what they characterize as a memo from a January 14th confidential teleconference involving the head of China's National Health Commission.

CNN has combed through the government's public report of that teleconference which was released more than a month after it took place. It says a, quote, sober understanding of the situation was made known to top Chinese government officials, adding that, quote, clustered cases suggest that human-to-human transmission is possible.

But that was not the message shared publicly from health officials at the time. In fact, as hundreds of millions traveled, leading up to the lunar holiday, mass gatherings at airports and railway stations, the Wuhan Health Commission maintained that outbreak was controllable and preventable and that this was not contagious.

It was not until January 20th that leading health officials acknowledged, publicly, cases of human-to-human cases and they stated medical personnel had gotten infected.

CNN spoke with one of the doctors who early on tried to sound the alarm and contracted the illness.

DR. LE WINLIANG, OPHTHALMOLOGIST: I can barely breathe --

CULVER: Wuhan ophthalmologist Dr. Li Wenliang was reprimanded in early January by Wuhan police. They accused the 34-year-old of spreading rumors, after he had messaged friends, warning them of a SARS-like illness going around. Instead of listening to his warnings, police silenced Dr. Li and other

whistleblowers. He died of coronavirus in early February. CNN's early had an underreporting of case, Wuhan residents telling us that their loved ones were never tested despite suffering from coronavirus-like symptoms, instead their deaths listed as severe pneumonia, whether it was interpretational or due to a lack of testing. For some, China's reported numbers of coronavirus tests and deaths does not add up.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The mere fact that we don't know the answers, that China hasn't shared the answers I think is very, very telling.


CULVER: China has repeatedly maintained that they have been opened and forthcoming in their handling of this outbreak. On Wednesday, China's foreign ministry said that in an open, transparent and responsible manner, China has kept the WHO and relevant countries updated on the outbreak.

But, Jake, if the early cover-up and the mishandling at the local level was, in fact, known by top officials here, their delayed action might overshadow the massive containment effort that China so proudly promotes.


TAPPER: David, great reporting. Stay with us.

I want to bring CNN's Kylie Atwood who comes to us from the State Department. She's our State Department reporter.

And, Kylie, let's play a little bit more of that clip from Secretary of State Pompeo last night on Fox.


POMPEO: The mere fact that we don't know the answers, that China hasn't shared the answers, I think is very, very telling. We really need the Chinese government to open up. They say they want to cooperate. One of the best ways they can find to cooperate would be to let the world in, tell the world scientists know exactly how this came to be, exactly how this virus began to spread.


TAPPER: Now, Kylie, obviously, Trump and his administration are reluctant to accept any blame for their handling of the pandemic. But two things can be true at once -- the Chinese government mishandling this, covering it up, lying about it, and the Trump administration being too slow to taking as to protect its citizens?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is a point worth making, Jake, because it is true, the context in which we are learning that the U.S. government is looking into the possibility that the coronavirus did potentially leak out of a Chinese lab instead of from a wet market has to be considered in the same context of the fact that the Trump administration and Trump's allies have been trying to deflect the blame for how they have handled the outbreak of this pandemic in the United States.

But the bottom line here is that we do not know what the precise origin of this novel coronavirus really is. And U.S. government officials have told me that they do want to get to the bottom of that. Now, intelligence officials, national security officials are looking into this. The lab is one of the possibilities that they are looking into. But nothing is yet definitive or conclusive about what they have found.

TAPPER: And, David, from the offset, the Chinese deposit was silencing whistleblowers, withholding crucial information from the Chinese population, from the international community, we can't even trust the number of cases and deaths reported by the Chinese government.

How are they responding to the U.S. saying it's going to investigate this?

CULVER: Yes, there is a lot of skepticism here, Jake. They're dismissing this as nonsense. They go back to the lean this is a scientific issue and they say that they need to leave it to their open experts, even some of their diplomats have theorized about the origins as we pointed out.

China says that the countries ultimately need to ban together to win this fight. It sounds great. Honestly, Jake, I don't think it's feasible. I mean, what we are seeing here are deepened tensions now that are coming out between the U.S. and China. We're seeing an increased distress of foreigners here, in part because of what health officials labeled as imported cases.

But there is this intensified blame towards the other. We see that rhetoric on social media, both here, in China and the U.S., it just makes it seem like you will not come to an agreement between the two countries on really anything let alone an end of this epidemic.

TAPPER: And speaking of othering people, we should note what the Chinese government the guilty of not the same thing what Chinese people are guilty of, that population was victimized more than anyone.

CULVER: Right.

TAPPER: Not even talking about Asian-Americans.

Kylie, "The Washington Post's" Josh Rogin reported on State Department cables in 2018 showing concerns about the safety and management of the Wuhan Institute of Virology bio lab that David refers to.

What do you know about the lab?

ATWOOD: Well, this is one of China's most advanced labs. It's operated by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. And in 2015, it's worth noting it was the first Chinese lab to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety. But at the same time, what "The Washington Post" revealed in these

cables from State Department officials is that there were concerns about research happening in that lab with regard to coronaviruses and bats. So, there were alarms being raised about what was happening there.

TAPPER: All right. David, Kylie, thank you so much for your excellent reporting. I appreciate it.

Coming up, it seems Ivanka Trump is familiar with the phrase "do as I say, not as I do". Why is this family different from all other families? That's next.



TAPPER: Our money lead now.

Today, more hard numbers to showcase the ugly economic reality of today; 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment for the first-time last week. That now makes 22 million out of a job in just the last month, about 13 percent of the American work force.

And keep in mind, those numbers do not include furloughs and pay cuts, adding to widespread economic pain, or folks not eligible for unemployment benefits.

CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley joins me now to discuss this and more.

And, Julia, you have looked into the unemployment numbers. What states and what industries are taking the hardest hits?


Well, it began in restaurants, bars and hotels, as you can imagine, but it's far more broad-based now, the health care sector, construction, administrative services.

What we saw in the last week were claims ramping up in states like Georgia, Arizona, and Texas. But we know it's broad-based across states as well that are all struggling at this moment.

What we're looking at in the United States now is a potential unemployment rate of 15 percent. That dwarfs anything that we saw during the financial crisis. What we're also looking at potentially is giving up all the job gains that we have seen since then.

And we have done it in, what, just the past four weeks. And the worst news about this is, we know states are still struggling to process all of these claims, and we're not yet capturing the gig economy workers, the freelancers, your Uber drivers.


That's a potential 23 million more workers. The news is going to get worse, Jake.

TAPPER: I wanted to -- I have been meaning to ask you, because, in the stimulus package that we have been covering, there was a provision tucked into the bill that offers a huge tax break to the nation's wealthiest individuals, especially people who own real estate.

Tell us more about this.

CHATTERLEY: Let's use New York as an example.

When the city that never sleeps, sleeps, like it is now, every business, every tenant goes to their landlord and says, I can't pay rent. We saw this happen. It happened a few weeks ago, and it continues.

What that did was shake the foundations of the real estate market in similar ways to what we saw in the financial crisis. What this tax change does is, it allows these real estate players to not pay so much tax now and offset the cash that isn't coming in.

In the end, is it a tax change for the 1 percent? Yes. Does it potentially help players like Donald Trump, like the Kushner family? That's the fear. As a result, does it feel stinky? Yes, it does.

But the argument could be made here that it prevented a bigger collapse that could have had housing and rent implications for many of us.

TAPPER: And, Julia, you and I have been talking for weeks now about the small business loan program. Today, it officially tapped out. They don't have any money.

Moments ago on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Democrats for stalled negotiations. Any signs of a deal, given how badly small business businesses need this money? Any hope there?

CHATTERLEY: Mitch McConnell also called it an emergency. And I agree with him on that point.

The negotiations continue. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said, look, he believed that the impasse could be overcome by the next session. That's Monday. He also suggested that the president on a call with senators today, he said that perhaps money could be found for other things.

We have got a timing issue. The Republicans believed that more money was needed for the states and for health care, but they wanted to give it a bit of time. The Democrats want it all to happen now. The hope is that this gap can be bridged, because, Jake, this is an emergency for small businesses.

And the job claims numbers tells you that. More jobs will be lost, more businesses will fail if they can't agree this money now.

TAPPER: All right, CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley, as always, thank you so much. CHATTERLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: President Trump's guidelines to avoid discretionary travel apparently did not apply to his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump and her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner.

The two, along with their children and Secret Service protection, despite their own admonitions to the rest of us to stay home and stay safe, drove from Washington, D.C., to the Trump property in Bedminster, New Jersey, to celebrate Passover last week.

A White House official defended the Kushners' trip, saying the facility in Bedminster is closed down and is considered a family home, and that Ivanka Trump's travel was no different than going to and from work outside of the populated D.C. area.

We should note, New Jersey is one of the worst-hit states in the nation, with 71,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 3,100 deaths.

While the United States figures out how and when things will start to reopen, one country just announced they are extending their stay-at- home order.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead today: Singapore, held up by many as an example of how to deal with COVID-19, is now seeing its largest one- day increase in cases, reporting 728 new coronavirus patients just today, most from a cluster of foreign workers in dorms.

Last week, the average number of new cases was just 48.

Some European cities are seeing dramatic drops in a specific pollutant during this lockdown, Paris seeing a 54 percent decrease, Madrid, Rome, Milan all sitting around a 45 percent decrease.

The United Kingdom announced today that they will be extending stay- at-home orders until at least May 7.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins me now to discuss.

Nic, is there any indication of what it will take for these stay-at- home orders to begin to be lifted?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Jake, the government's been under a lot of pressure here to give an idea of what it will take.

And we got the first indication of that today, a five-point plan laid out, number one, that the Health Service here can cope, meaning that they have got enough critical care beds, secondly, that there is a sustained decrease in the number of deaths, thirdly, that there is reliable data.

And I think this is critical as well, that they have reliable data that the number of infections are decreasing. So, what they're telling us here is, this is going to be numbers-led. The fourth point, again, that's something that government has come in for a lot of criticism for. The fourth point is that there's enough personal protective equipment, PPE and, critically, tests, enough tests available in the country.

This country has been woefully short of tests to detect the presence of the virus. So, that's the fourth thing. And the fifth item is the piece of greatest concern for the government, that it doesn't do something, it doesn't have a strategy that allows a second wave, a second spike of infections that could come that could overwhelm the Health Service -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson in London, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

President Trump will release his guidelines on attempting to reopen the country, at least to a degree, soon.