Coronavirus: China's response likely cost world two months, says White House national security adviser

A man walks along a street in Nanjing, in east China's Jiangsu province on March 11, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - China did not initially handle the coronavirus outbreak well, likely costing the world two months when it could have prepared and dramatically limited the outbreak, Robert O'Brien, the White House national security adviser, said on Wednesday (March 11).

"Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up," he said during a think-tank appearance, citing reports from Chinese citizens about doctors being silenced or put into isolation "so that the word of this virus could not get out."

"It probably cost the world community two months to respond," during which "we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what's now happening across the world," he said.

More than 119,100 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 4,298 have died, the vast majority in China, according to a Reuters tally.

The United States has 975 cases and 30 people have died.

O'Brien said: "The (US) president took very bold action when we realised the extent of what was happening and we stopped air travel coming in from China."

On Jan 31, Trump took steps to curtail, but not stop, air travel from China.

In a proclamation that went into effect on Feb 2, Trump barred the entry of most non-US citizens who had been in China during the preceding two weeks.

The US government on Feb 2 also directed flights from China and passengers who had traveled to mainland China in the previous two weeks to specified US airports that had enhanced screening procedures.

US citizens who had been in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak in mainland China, within 14 days were subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine, while those who visited other parts of China were required to undergo health screening and up to 14 days of self-quarantine with health monitoring.

"We have done a good job responding to it but... the way that this started out in China, and the way it was handled from the outset, was not right," said O'Brien, who was appointed by Trump to the post last September, replacing John Bolton, with whom Trump had parted acrimoniously.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.