An unprepared China downplayed the spread of coronavirus in February, keeping secret thousands of confirmed daily cases just as the pandemic spread rapidly across the world, newly revealed documents show.
Coronavirus test results took an average of over 23 days, and a previously undisclosed influenza outbreak wracked the future epicenter of the pandemic in December, according to classified documents from the Hubei Province Center for Disease Control and Prevention that were leaked to CNN.
China’s government has maintained that it has been transparent in its public statements about coronavirus, which was first identified in the Hubei Province city of Wuhan late last year.
Chinese officials reported 2,478 coronavirus cases on a single day in February, while officials in Hubei – home to Wuhan – had a confidential list of 5,918 new cases from that day. Medical staff members walk at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25
Chinese President Xi Jinping, leader of the Communist Party, faced a crisis of legitimacy as the novel coronavirus spread in early 2020. While he moved aggressively to lock down the country, the government’s propensity to avoid reporting bad news likely led to a significant undercount of cases and coronavirus deaths, analysts say
The China State Council claimed in June that the government has always divulged coronavirus information in a ‘timely, open, and transparent fashion.’
But on one day, February 10, the government reported 2,478 new coronavirus cases, while officials in Hubei had a confidential list of 5,918 new cases from that day.
From the documents it is clear that government underreported the number of deaths from COVID.
The daily confirmed virus death toll in Hubei is shown as 196 on February 17. But publicly, Hubei publicly reported that day just 93 deaths.
While the government on March 7 had officially tallied 2,986 deaths since the outset of the disease, the internal documents marked the death toll at 3,456, which counted within that figure 647 ‘clinically diagnosed’ deaths, and 126 ‘suspected’ case deaths.
Medical staff members wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of coronavirus work at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25, 2020
The government seemed to use the category of ‘suspected’ to obfuscate the true number of coronavirus-related deaths and coronavirus cases, CNN reported.
The discrepancy between the numbers reported to the public and those that Hubei officials had access to likely owes both to a propensity to suppress bad news and to reporting system that was faulty, analysts told the news network.
‘It was clear they did make mistakes – and not just mistakes that happen when you’re dealing with a novel virus – also bureaucratic and politically-motivated errors in how they handled it,’ Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN.
All this underreporting after Chinese President Xi Jinping took aggressive action to lock down much of the country. More than 700 million were confined to their homes as the government used sophisticated surveillance technology to enforce the lockdown.
The Communist Party’s legitimacy was at stake in a country where people have traded personal freedom for stability and an advancing prosperity. Coronavirus threatened all that.
While Hubei officials portrayed their response to the virus as efficient, documents show that in March test results took over three weeks to come back, making it nearly impossible to capture an accurate snapshot of how COVID was spreading.
The confirmed cases were also showing a 30 to 50 percent positivity when tests came back – meaning that most tests were coming back as ‘false negatives.’
A man gets his temperature checked outside a barricade where community members control who comes in and out of a residential street on February 24, 2020 in Beijing, China
Doctors identified the first coronavirus patient on December 1 in Wuhan, according to the Lancet. That same weed, Hubei Province saw traditional flu cases rise by more than 2,000% compared to the same week the previous year, according to CNN.
Xianning and Yichan, two cities close to Wuhan, were hit the worst by influenza.
It’s not clear if there’s any connection between the influenza epidemic and COVID-19 infections.
In the year since the virus was first detected, the COVID-19 pandemic has infected over 63 million and killed almost 1.5 million people globally.
Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video on March 10 with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province.
A whistleblower gave the files to CNN, which confirmed their legitimacy with six experts.
The action of the whistleblower recall the efforts of Dr. Li Wenliang to warn the public about the novel disease in Wuhan at the outset of the epidemic.
Li, an ophthalmologist, caught the public’s attention after he was reprimanded by police and accused of spreading ‘fake news’ for warning on social media of ‘SARS at a Wuhan seafood market’ on December 30.
Li, 34, died from coronavirus in February having contracting it from a patient.
His death caused an uproar among the country’s social media users who criticized their government of controlling freedom of speech and trying to cover up Li’s passing.
Dr Li Wenliang, 34, who died of the coronavirus in February after being punished for sounding the alarm over the outbreak has been given the honorary title of ‘an advanced individual’