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NATO must confront coronavirus disinformation, supply chain threats: Stoltenberg

Coronavirus outbreak: Defence spending must continue during COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: Military spending needs to continue in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tells Mercedes Stephenson, because security threats continue and governments need to invest in both health and defence.

The coronavirus pandemic is driving home the need for members of the NATO security alliance to work together to counter disinformation and shore up supply chains among the alliance.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the pandemic highlights how important it is for members to be resilient and able to rely on their partners for things like equipment and medicines.

READ MORE: Why is the World Health Organization accused of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic?

“I don’t believe every nation can be self-sufficient and produce all kinds of medicines and equipment themselves but I think we as NATO allies have to look into issues like stocks,” he said.

“Do we have enough stocks to deal with this crisis, are we too dependent on imports from countries outside the alliance? Some of the homework we have to do after this crisis is to look into how to be less dependent on imports of these kinds of essential equipment.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Freeland says global PPE situation is like the ‘wild west’
Coronavirus outbreak: Freeland says global PPE situation is like the ‘wild west’

The NATO security alliance is made up of 30 European and North American nations who work together to counter threats to national security and military defence.

As the world grapples with the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected 2.7 million people worldwide and killed 191,614, some countries have been spreading propaganda and disinformation about the source of the virus, which originated in China.

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Chinese diplomats have been among those spreading posts online suggesting the outbreak came from the United States, while other sources of disinformation have suggested the virus is a Chinese biological weapon.

READ MORE: Coronavirus conspiracies pushed by Russia, amplified by Chinese officials, experts say

In actuality, the evidence available to date suggests the virus originated in bats before jumping to humans via an intermediary host.

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Reports of the coronavirus, linked to a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, began to emerge in December 2019, but multiple intelligence reports leaked to media over the last month have said the virus actually began circulating even earlier than previously thought, likely in November or before.

Chinese officials initially muzzled scientists from reporting on developing cases and have continued to obfuscate their numbers.

READ MORE: Freeland won’t say if Canada has seen U.S. intel flagging Chinese coronavirus data

But with the country now a major supplier in the global rush for personal protective equipment, some have been hesitant to publicly question Beijing’s data or its role in muddying the waters of responsibility.

As BBC News reported last week, the European Union’s external affairs branch pulled a report from publication that said China is running a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the pandemic. The reason, sources were cited as saying, was fear of angering Beijing.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Government in difficult position with China over accountability, transparency with COVID-19

Stoltenberg did not name China but said the attempts seen so far at spreading disinformation demand a serious response from the alliance — and that supporting journalism is the best way to do so.

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“We have seen already different attempts to portray the coronavirus as something totally different from this and also making NATO allies responsible for the virus,” he said.

“That’s absolutely wrong and we have to respond to that, and I believe that the best way to counter propaganda is not propaganda but the best way to counter this information is actually to provide facts.

“I believe that the truth, in the long run, will prevail and I believe that journalists, a free and independent press, is perhaps the best weapon we have in countering disinformation and propaganda.”

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Stoltenberg, who was prime minister of Norway in 2011 when that country experienced a terrorist shooting spree that killed 77 people, also offered his condolences for Canadians grappling with the shooting last weekend in rural Nova Scotia.

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The shooting spree killed at least 22 people, marking the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.

Stoltenberg said solidarity helped his country face the aftermath of its attack and will do so for Canada.

“I think that is one of the lessons we learned in Norway [was] the fact that we stand together in the aftermath of such a terrible incident,” he said.
“So the way I’ve seen Canada dealing with this — the way you stand united in condemning the violence — is important [both] to do whatever you can to prevent something like that happening again but it is also important because it is a way to convey comfort, support to those who lost loved ones in the terrible attack.”