Wuhan Official Proposes Changes to China Law to Address 'Shortcomings' in Reporting and Disclosure of Infectious Diseases

A Chinese lawmaker from the region where the coronavirus originated proposed several measures to improve outbreak response time and to remedy reporting flaws exposed by the pandemic.

National People's Congress lawmakers began their annual legislative session Friday discussing how to help local businesses, but also laid out how to prevent future infectious diseases from spreading so rapidly.

Zhou Hongyu, a National People's Congress deputy from Wuhan, proposed several amendments aimed at speeding up response time in one of the Chinese government's first official acknowledgements of failure to initially control the epidemic last December. Zhou, who is vice president of Central China Normal University, demanded measures for timely reporting and public disclosures.

"The response to the epidemic this time has exposed several shortcomings of the relevant infectious disease prevention and response systems. Amendments to and improvement of the infectious disease law need to be on the agenda," the state-run media report outlet ThePaper.cn quoted him as saying.

Zhou this week introduced nearly 29 amendments and proposals, which seek to prepare China for a major public health event and to continue supporting the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Among the changes, Zhou called for integrating disease control systems with health care providers, and to clarify the responsibility specific government agencies have in dealing with a potential outbreak.

"When new infectious diseases appear, disease control and epidemiological organisations can intervene early and quickly lock into the source of infection, determine the transmission route and set up prevention measures based on data collected from infectious disease monitoring systems," reads the motion put forth by Zhou and other lawmakers.

Zhou's proposals also put forth "timeliness" requirements given that Chinese health officials were perpetually days, if not weeks, behind in putting containment measures in place.

"The wide spread of the epidemic in Wuhan amplified the critical importance of timely [actions] to controlling the epidemics," the lawmakers wrote.

Chinese government health officials, particularly those overseeing the laboratories in Wuhan, have received international criticism for failing to heed the warnings of at least eight doctors who were silenced or reprimanded. One doctor who issued warnings to health officials early on, Li Wenliang, later died from COVID-19.

Gao Fu, the head of the national Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the state media outlet Saturday that he and his colleagues accept criticism of their response to the coronavirus outbreak. But Gao nonetheless added that they outperformed the responses of other countries in which the virus ultimately spread.

"With such a big epidemic in China and in the world, I accept with humility the criticism ... I strived to fight the epidemic in response to the ill opinions of the CDC and myself," Gao said, according to ThePaper.cn.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
This aerial view shows the P4 laboratory on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, from where U.S. leaders have speculated the novel coronavirus may have leaked, in China's central Hubei province on May 13 HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty