Vice President Mike Pence said Beijing has demonstrated “an unprecedented level of transparency” with world health officials in dealing with the new, fast-spreading coronavirus.
“It’s heartbreaking but we stand ready with China to provide them any and all support,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”
Health officials around the world are also scrambling to stop the spread of the new virus, which was discovered Dec. 31 in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province.
China’s National Health Commission has raised its confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 31,161. The death toll rose to 636, with one additional fatality in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong. Eleven cases have been reported across the United States.
The Chinese government has put several preventative measures in place, including issuing travel bans and monitoring citizens for fever and coughs. Several retailers have closed stores. While health officials believe the number of actual coronavirus cases to be much larger, some have praised China, Pence among them, for its quick reporting and its willingness to share information about the outbreak.
“We think that China has demonstrated an unprecedented level of transparency” with world health officials, Pence said.
However, a Wuhan doctor who sounded the alarm on social media in December about the new coronavirus was reprimanded by the police in January for spreading “illegal and false” information. The doctor, ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, died of the illness this week.
In the CNBC interview, Pence referred to Thursday’s phone call between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, after which Trump tweeted that China will “be successful” in getting control over the deadly coronavirus.
“Trump made it clear that the United States is ready, willing and able to deploy resources,” Pence added.
Medical experts have compared the current coronavirus outbreak to the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, which also began in China. At the time, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome sickened nearly 8,100 people and caused 774 deaths. That means the virus killed roughly 1 in 10 infected people. The new coronavirus has a much lower mortality of rate of about 2% — and it may be even lower, if the confirmed cases are indeed under-reported.
Even after SARS had spread beyond China and around the world, Beijing sought to conceal the number of actual cases and worked meticulously to avoid detection by World Health Organization experts. It wasn’t until a physician spoke out that the concealment became known.
China has said this time will be different. Last month, the ruling Communist Party’s central political and legal affairs commission warned that “whoever deliberately delays and conceals reports will forever be nailed to history’s pillar of shame.” At the time, Xi said people’s health must be put first. “It is necessary to release epidemic information in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation.”
By sharing information quickly, health experts can work to stop the spread of the disease and drugmakers can begin working on possibles vaccines.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.