US Unprepared to Meet its First COVID Evacuees from Wuhan Last Year

Federal officials at a California military base last year who met with the first American evacuees from Wuhan, China, the place where the coronavirus emerged, were not prepared for their mission, according to The Washington Post.They did not wear masks and had “no virus prevention plan or infection-control training” when they met with the evacuees, the Post said, according to two federal reports the newspaper said it has obtained.The newspaper reported on its website late Thursday that the reports supported “a whistleblower’s account of the chaos as U.S. officials scrambled to greet nearly 200 evacuees” who eventually did not test positive for the coronavirus.The whistleblower’s complaint, however, resulted in “internal reviews by the Health and Human Services Department and an investigation overseen by the Office of Special Counsel,” the Post said.According to the newspaper’s account, the federal officials who first interacted with the Wuhan evacuees at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, were instructed to remove their protective gear when meeting with the evacuees to avoid “bad optics.” ((bad appearances))The Health and Human Services general counsel’s office, headed by Robert Charrow, a Trump appointee, conducted a campaign against the whistleblower among members of Congress who received from HHS an account of what the agency said was the whistleblower’s conflicting information. That HHS move was “reprehensible,” Special Counsel Henry Kerner said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday. Kerner praised the whistleblower’s “tremendous courage in bringing these allegations forward.”There are more than 101 million global COVID-19 infections, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Friday. The U.S. tops the list with more than 25 million cases, followed by India with 10.7 million infections and Brazil with 9 million. More than 2 million people have died from the disease, Johns Hopkins said.Health officials in South Carolina say they have detected two cases of the South African COVID-19 variant, the first cases in the United States.So far, the variant does not appear to cause more serious illness, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that “preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants.””That’s frightening,” because it means there are likely more undetected cases within the state, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said in an interview with CBS News. “It’s probably more widespread.”A man wearing a face mask visits the Shinjuku City Hall promoting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, rescheduled for this summer, in Tokyo on Jan. 29, 2021.Officials say the two South Carolina cases do not appear to be connected or travel related.It is normal for viruses to mutate. So far, variants from Britain and Brazil have also been discovered.In other COVID-19 news, World Health Organization investigators emerged from a two-week quarantine Thursday in Wuhan, China, to begin their work in search of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.The international team boarded a bus after leaving their hotel in the afternoon.China, which for months rejected calls for an international probe, has pledged adequate access for the researchers. The team is expected to spend several weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and a market linked to many of the first cases.WHO has said the purpose of the mission is not to assign blame for the pandemic but to figure out how it started in order to better prevent and combat future outbreaks.“We are looking for the answers here that may save us in the future, not culprits and not people to blame,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies official, said earlier this month.The novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 and has since spread across the world, infecting more than 100 million people and killing about 2.1 million.More than 120 countries have called for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, with many governments accusing China of not doing enough to contain its spread.”It’s imperative that we get to the bottom of the early days of the pandemic in China, and we’ve been supportive of an international investigation that we feel should be robust and clear,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday.Concern remains in many countries about access to and supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.Japan’s top government spokesman said Thursday that AstraZeneca will make more than 90 million doses of its vaccine in Japan.”We believe it is very important to be able to produce the vaccines domestically,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.Like many countries already carrying out vaccination campaigns, Japan plans to prioritize front-line medical workers when it begins administering the shots in late February.Japan has arranged to buy 120 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The vaccine requires a two-shot regiment for each person.The European Union and AstraZeneca clashed this week after the company said it would have to cut planned deliveries to the EU due to production delays.EU officials are demanding the doses be delivered on time and have threatened to put export controls on vaccines made in EU territory.

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