By 14 January, top officials of the Chinese government knew that the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak could snowball into a pandemic and they kept the world in secret from the unfolding disaster for the next 6 days, APNews confirmed based on retrospective infection data and expert analysis.
The paper, citing Chinese media, claims there were enough data that COVID-19 spread person-to-person as people who had never been to the animal market in Wuhan contracted the disease as early as December, but the Chinese government withheld the reality from the public and the WHO.
Millions of Chinese expatriates make their way to China for the celebration of the Lunar New Year between 14th and 19th January. Wuhan, Coronavirus ground zero, was holding a mass banquet for thousands. All this happened over the course of just 6 days.
For the first time on 20 January, Chinese President Xi Jinping officially warned of the imminent catastrophe. Nearly 3,000 people had developed the Coronavirus by this time.
While governments around the world have avoided taking steps to curb the spread of coronavirus, China’s act of not alerting the world to a crisis at hand has set the stage for a pandemic that has now infected 2,1 million people and killed 147,000.
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.
In addition, from 5th to 17th January the Chinese Center for Disease Control had stopped reporting any cases from local hospitals in Wuhan. Nevertheless, during that time, thousands of patients were admitted to hospitals not only in Wuhan but throughout China.
It is known that doctors in local hospitals were afraid they would receive the same rumor-mongering penalty as the eight physicians, including Dr. Li Wenliang, who tried to alert the public to some official authorities.
According to Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, Wuhan doctors were afraid of the penalty levied on whistleblowers who were trying to raise alarms for the illness.
Moreover, when the first case of COVID-19 outside China was identified in Thailand on 13 January, the Chinese government sprung quietly into action nationwide.
The government started distributing test kits authorized by CDC, eased the requirements for verifying cases, and ordered authorities to check the body temperature of anyone leaving their house. It did it all, without formally telling the public.
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.