Since the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019 China has been facing criticism and surrounded by the conspiracy theories which were triggered due to the lack of transparency. It was revealed that six days after top Chinese authorities understood that they are probably facing a pandemic due to the new Coronavirus, the initial epicentre Wuhan authorities allowed a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people. Meanwhile millions of Chinese nationals began their annual trip home for the Lunar New Year celebrations.
On the seventh day, that is January 20, China President Xi Jinping warned the citizens about the COVID-19 pandemic but by that time over 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, revealed internal documents.
CCP kept it as a secret for six days
As per the internal documents currently obtained by The Associated Press, the delay in the announcement from January 14 to 20 left the Chinese people in a vulnerable situation. The lack of transparency, rigid controls over information bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send actual news out of the country has now infected nearly two million people and taken over 126,000 lives.
Dr Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles said that "If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient." On the other hand, as per another epidemiologist, Benjamin Cowley at the University of Hong Kong it could have been a tricky call, if the Chinese health officials had sounded the alarm too soon it can damage their credibility and ability to mobilize the citizens.
The internal documents revealed that the delay by China came on top of almost two weeks during which the National Center for Disease Control (CDC) did not register any new Coronavirus cases. But from January 5 to 17, hundreds of patients were appearing in China's hospitals including in Wuhan, which was the initial epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.
China failed to reveal the truth behind the Coronavirus
The Chinese officials have repeatedly denied suppressing information about the COVID-19 initially. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a recent press conference that allegations of a cover-up or lack of transparency in China are nothing but "groundless."
But the documents showed that the Ma Xiaowei, the head of China's National Health Commission laid out a grim evaluation of Coronavirus situation in a confidential January 14 teleconference with prudential health officials. It also stated that the aim behind the teleconference was to convey instructions on COVID-19 from President Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, but does not specify what exactly those instructions were. As per the memo, Ma 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."
In another section of the memo, citing the first case outside China in Thailand it said the situation had "changed significantly" because of the possible spread of the virus in other countries. It also added that "All localities must prepare for and respond to a pandemic."
The National Health Commission distributed the instructions, marked as "not to be publicly disclosed," to provincial health officials where the authorities ordered the officers to identify suspected cases, hospitals to open fever clinics and doctors and nurses to wear protective gear. When the top officials sharing such information, to the public they kept saying that "the risk of sustained human-to-human transmission is low."
Under the new order Wuhan officials finally received CDC-approved testing kits and a signal to start confirming new cases. On January 20, Xi Jinping made his first public comments on the virus and said the outbreak "must be taken seriously." Meanwhile, Dr Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese epidemiologist revealed on national television that the new Coronavirus was transmissible from person to person.