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Health minister continues defence of China’s handling of coronavirus case data

Click to play video '‘I’m happy with the situation as it is:’ Hajdu on U.S.-Canada border closure' ‘I’m happy with the situation as it is:’ Hajdu on U.S.-Canada border closure
WATCH ABOVE: Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, tells Mercedes Stephenson she is happy with the U.S.-Canada border closure as Canada has its hands full domestically with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu continues to defend the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying all countries have difficulties calculating the extent of the virus spread.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Hajdu was asked about her comments earlier in the year when she dismissed as a conspiracy theory a question about whether China had underreported their cases and the severity of the new, highly contagious disease.

READ MORE: China blamed for Canada’s multimillion-dollar coronavirus vaccine deal collapse

“You had dismissed that as a conspiracy theory. In retrospect, do you think that China was honest and was forthcoming in the intelligence it shared with the global community and with Canada about the risks?” Stephenson asked.

“Look, very early on China alerted the World Health Organization to the emergence of a novel coronavirus and also shared the sequencing of the gene which allowed countries to be able to rapidly produce tests to be able to detect it in their own countries,” Hajdu said.

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“I think the phenomenon of underreporting is going to be something that we hear about across the world because, of course, as pandemics come and as we see surges, it’s very difficult to determine how many people are sick at a given time and how many people are having adverse outcomes.”

She said every country has been grappling with the “incredible demand” on data systems.

“It is difficult when you’re in the middle of a crisis to do that thorough accounting.”

READ MORE: China dismisses claim that COVID-19 started spreading in Wuhan last August

China, a country of 1.4 billion people, has reported just over 85,000 total cases and 4,634 deaths.

However, those numbers have been virtually unmoved in months and came after an initial sharp April jump in revised case information following growing scrutiny of the government’s low reporting.

Canada, in contrast, has a population of roughly 34 million and has reported 135,259 cases and 9,163 deaths. The United States, currently the global epicentre, has a population of 328 million and has reported 6.4 million cases and 192,381 deaths.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner argued Hajdu’s continued defence of the Chinese government’s handling of the outbreak are among several factors related to her management of the pandemic that raise questions about whether she should stay in the job.

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“I think that there’s issues with trust right now and for Canadians to trust her after all this, I think it’s a big leap,” Rempel Garner said on The West Block.

“That’s something I think the government needs to address.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Hajdu stands by statement likening questioning Chinese COVID-19 data to pushing “conspiracy theories”' Coronavirus outbreak: Hajdu stands by statement likening questioning Chinese COVID-19 data to pushing “conspiracy theories”
Coronavirus outbreak: Hajdu stands by statement likening questioning Chinese COVID-19 data to pushing “conspiracy theories”

 

READ MORE: Trudeau sidesteps questions on whether China’s coronavirus data is trustworthy

The virus was first detected spreading in Wuhan on Dec. 31, 2019, but multiple reports citing leaked intelligence data south of the border suggest there may have been circulating data earlier in the fall.

“So do you think that was an honest mistake by the Chinese and not a deliberate effort to conceal?” Stephenson asked again.

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“I’m not going to speculate, Mercedes. It’s really hard to understand except through the lens of Canada’s experience and as minister of health,” Hajdu said.

“I can tell you that when everything is happening all at once, it can be very difficult especially depending on the legacy data systems that you may or may not have. So listen, what I can say is the world needs to work together right now and we need to ensure we’re working in full partnership to defeat COVID-19.”

COMMENTARY: Health minister’s credulity plays right into China’s hands

It’s not the first time Hajdu has made similar remarks.

She did so back in May as well during a virtual question and answer session with MPs.

Yet the comments now come in light of the decision by Chinese authorities to block shipments of vaccine materials that were supposed to be delivered to Canada under a multimillion-dollar research deal between the Chinese company CanSino Biologics and the National Research Council.

Experts suggest China’s failure to approve those shipments comes down to geopolitics and possible retaliation for the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou by Canada.

READ MORE: China honours ‘heroes’ of coronavirus fight, ignoring criticism of pandemic origins

As well, Beijing last week honoured what it called the “heroes” of the fight against coronavirus but made no mention of Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who said he was punished when he tried to raise alarm bells about a new infectious disease spreading in Wuhan.

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He later died from the virus.