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Special report from Reuters: the parallels between coronavirus, ASF and China’s demands for secrecy

Dominique Patton from Reuters has outlined China’s pattern of under-reporting of disease outbreaks – hindering its ability to defeat one of the worst livestock epidemics in modern history.

6 March 2020, at 10:27am

In a long-form report from Reuters, Dominique Patton tracks the official Chinese response to both African swine fever and the coronavirus. The report finds that when ASF was first identified in China, authorities put significant pressure on stakeholders to remain quiet. Since local officials feared reprisals from the central government in Beijing, they failed to order tests that would confirm outbreaks and didn’t adequately warn the public as the pathogen spread through the country.

For the past 19 months, secrecy has hobbled China’s response to ASF, leading to the deaths of millions of pigs. Reuters’ examination found that swine fever’s quick spread was made possible by China’s consistent under-reporting of outbreaks. As it stands now, bureaucratic secrecy continues to undermine Chinese efforts to tackle the disease. The epidemic has taken 25 percent of the world’s hogs off the market, hurt livelihoods and caused meat prices to soar. It has also pushed food inflation to an eight-year high.

Country wide cover-ups, along with underfinancing of relief for impacted pig farmers and weak enforcement of transport and slaughter restrictions have enabled the spread of ASF to the point where it is a global threat. Since the outbreak began, it has spread to 10 countries in Asia.

The vacuum of credible information has made it impossible for farmers, industry and government to tell how and why the disease spread so quickly, making preventive measures more difficult.

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