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Watchdog: US officials handling of Wuhan evacuees increased coronavirus risks

Watchdog: US officials handling of Wuhan evacuees increased coronavirus risks
© Alex Wong/Getty Image

U.S. officials’ early handling of evacuees from Wuhan, China, increased the risk of the spread of the coronavirus, according to the findings from a government watchdog.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel opened an investigation into allegations that officials with the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) sent workers without proper protective gear to receive Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan during the coronavirus outbreak.

The report backs a whistleblower account of the actions taken at the March Air Force Base in California.

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Special counsel Henry Kerner sent a letter to President Biden on Thursday, in which he said “the most troubling finding” was that the mission “increased the risk of infection transmission not only to deployed to ployed USG personnel but also to the American public as a whole.”

Kerner also wrote that when Americans arrived at the base, there was no designated official to lead the effort. The report found that the mission did not have “established infection control and prevention measures.”

Personnel who were sent also didn’t have sufficient personal protective equipment for the first three days of the mission, and received “confusing, incomplete and contradictory” PPE information.

The report also criticized the HHS Office of the General Counsel under Robert Charrow in a supplemental report for “attempts to shame the whistleblower, and attempts to undermine the core principles on the effectiveness of whistleblowing.”

A separate November report obtained by The Washington Post faulted a last-minute decision for HHS to oversee the operation as opposed to the state of California, saying that contributed to the problems that arose during the mission.

“In this unprecedented, dynamic, and evolving situation, the mission command and control structure during the March deployment temporarily broke down,” that report read.