Health and Science

Congressman whose committee oversees US health agencies questions China's coronavirus reporting

Key Points
  • The chairman of the House committee that oversees U.S. health agencies said he's skeptical of information coming out of China on the coronavirus outbreak.
  • "We have to be concerned about the Beijing government," Rep. Frank Pallone said. "They are not often forthcoming."
  • Chinese officials said last week they were being open about the process.
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Rep. Frank Pallone: I question China's coronavirus information

The chairman of the House committee that oversees U.S. health agencies told CNBC on Tuesday that he's skeptical of information coming out of China on the coronavirus outbreak.

"We have to be concerned about the Beijing government," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said on "Squawk Box." "They are not often forthcoming, often don't tell the truth about what's really happening."

Chinese officials on Tuesday sharply increased the number of confirmed coronavirus cases to nearly 4,700. The death toll there rose to 106. The virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, was first identified less than a month ago in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province.

Most of the cases are in mainland China, where local authorities have quarantined at least 10 major cities. Multiple cases of the virus have been confirmed in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, France and the United States.

Pallone is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He is not alone in his mistrust of China.

Earlier on Tuesday, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told "Squawk Box" that there could be "tens of thousands" of cases in China. "I think the Chinese haven't been fully sharing."

Medical experts have compared the current coronavirus outbreak to the 2003 SARS epidemic. SARS, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, also began in China.

However, even after SARS had spread around the world, China 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 week, 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."

Chinese President Xi Jinping added that 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 vaccinations.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC on Friday that China is "doing much better this time" than with SARS.

"From the feedback we're getting, in a real-time basis, it's an enormous difference, in a positive way," he said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Gottlieb: Coronavirus is likely more widespread in China than statistics suggest