By 14th January, the Chinese government’s top officials knew that the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan could snowball into a pandemic yet they kept the world in dark from the unfolding catastrophe for the next 6 days, APNews reported based on retrospective infection data and expert analysis.
The report, citing Chinese media, claims there was enough data that COVID-19 was spreading person-to-person as people who had never been to Wuhan’s animal market contracted the disease as early as December yet the Chinese government hid the fact from the public and WHO.
Between 14th to 19th January, millions of Chinese expatriates made their way to China for Lunar New Year celebrations. Wuhan, the ground zero of Coronavirus, hosted a mass banquet for thousands of people. All this happened during just 6 days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly warned about the impending disaster on January 20th for the first time. By that time, more than 3,000 people had contracted the Coronavirus.
Although governments around the world delayed taking action to curb the spread of Coronavirus, China’s act of not alerting the world of a crisis at hand, set the stage for a pandemic that has now infected 2.1 million and killed 147,000 people.
Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, has said:
This is tremendous. If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.
Moreover, the Chinese Center for Disease Control had stopped registering any cases from Wuhan’s local hospitals from 5th to 17th January. However, thousands of patients were admitted to hospitals not just in Wuhan but all over China during that period.
It is understood that doctors in local hospitals feared that they might receive the same punishment for rumor-mongering as the 8 doctors, including Dr. Li Wenliang, who tried to alert the public before any official authorities.
According to Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, doctors in Wuhan were afraid of the punishment meted out to whistleblowers who tried to raise alarms for the disease.
Furthermore, when COVID-19’s first case outside China was reported on Jan 13th in Thailand, the Chinese government silently sprang into action nationwide.
The government started distributing CDC-approved test kits, eased the criteria for confirming cases, and directed authorities to check the body temperature of everyone leaving their home. It did it all without informing the public at the official level.
On 14th January, the Head of China’s National Health Commission, Ma Xiaowei, in a confidential teleconference with health authorities, said:
The epidemic situation is still severe and complex, the most severe challenge since SARS in 2003, and is likely to develop into a major public health event.
The teleconference was arranged after Thailand reported the first case of Coronavirus. The meeting also discussed the possibility of the virus spreading as a result of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations.
Clustered cases and the emergence of a case in Thailand suggest that human-to-human transmission is possible. With the coming of the Lunar New Year, many people will be traveling, and the risk of transmission and spread is high. All localities must prepare for and respond to a pandemic.
On 20th January, President Xi publicly commented on the Coronavirus outbreak for the first time.
The outbreak must be taken seriously and every possible measure pursued.
Had the public been warned to undertake precautionary measures a week earlier, COVID-19 cases could have been down by over 60%, said Dr. Zhang of California University.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, has denied the findings.
The Chinese government never suppressed information in the early days of the outbreak. It immediately reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization. Those accusing China of lacking transparency and openness are unfair.