‘Things happened that we don’t know about’: Emmanuel Macron becomes latest world leader to question China over coronavirus

‘Given what China is today, let’s not be so naive as to say it’s been much better at handling this’

Colin Drury
Friday 17 April 2020 12:01 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Emmanuel Macron has questioned China‘s version of how it handled the coronavirus outbreak, saying things “happened that we don’t know about”.

In a scathing slap down of suggestions the one-party state was able to contain the pandemic better than western democracies, the French president indicated it would be “naive” to believe official accounts provided by the country.

His comments came as China revised upwards the number of people killed by the virus there by almost 50 per cent.

“Given … what China is today, which I respect, let’s not be so naive as to say it’s been much better at handling this,” Mr Macron told the Financial Times newspaper. “We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.”

And he added any suggestion that western democracies should question long-held principles of freedom were misguided.

“We can’t accept that,” he said. “You can’t abandon your fundamental DNA on the grounds that there is a health crisis.”

The comments make Mr Macron only the latest world leader to question China’s handling of the pandemic’s outbreak.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, acting as prime minister in Boris Johnson’s absence, previously said that “hard questions” would be asked about how the outbreak started “and how it couldn’t have been stopped earlier” — an apparent reference to China’s delay in reporting the bug to the rest of the world.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, put it even more bluntly in a Wednesday news briefing. “Does anybody really believe the numbers?” he asked of China’s official death toll.

The US president also gave succour to growing conspiracy theories suggesting the virus did not originate in Wuhan’s wet market — but in a nearby laboratory. He said Washington was looking into reports the bug may have escaped from the lab, which was known to be researching coronaviruses in bats.

The theory has gained traction after The Washington Post revealed the existence of government cables from 2018 in which the US embassy in Beijing raised concerns about safety of the facility in question.

“I will tell you more and more we’re hearing the story and we’ll see,” said Mr Trump.

Meanwhile, as if to unwittingly provide support for scepticism about China’s response to the virus, Beijing itself released figures on Friday showing it had previously under-reported the country’s death toll.

The new number for people killed by the virus was 4,632 — a figure almost 50 per cent higher than previously admitted.

Officials said the discrepancy was because reports of some deaths had been delayed amid the crisis.

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