Leaked documents show China seriously mishandled early stages of coronavirus outbreak

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Recently leaked documents erase any doubt about whether China was lying about the number of COVID-19 cases in the country during the early days of the pandemic.

A report obtained by CNN labeled “internal document, please keep confidential” indicates a total of 5,918 newly detected cases by local health authorities in the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, on February 10. This is more than twice the number of cases that were confirmed officially that day of 2,478.

Here’s what was reported to the public:
Confirmed cases: 2,097
Suspected cases: 1,814
Total: 3,911

Here’s what the document indicated:
Confirmed cases: 2,345
Suspected cases: 1,796
Clinically diagnosed cases: 1,772
“Tested positive”: 5
Total: 5,918

It is just one of many revelations found in 117 pages of leaked documents from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The documents are considered the biggest leak from within China since the pandemic started and offer unprecedented insight into how much local Chinese authorities knew internally and when they knew it.

CNN obtained them from a whistleblower who asked to remain anonymous. The individual worked within the Chinese healthcare system and wanted to expose the truth and honor other colleagues who had similarly spoken out. CNN was not sure why the specific documents included were chosen by the whistleblower, but they were verified by six independent experts who examined the veracity of the information. Digital forensics experts have said the data was not tampered with.

Of course, the Chinese government has insisted that they did not deliberately conceal information about the virus, something that many Western governments doubt. They claim they have been upfront since the outbreak began, but the documents show several inconsistencies between what the authorities thought was happening and what the public was told.

The documents indicate several major missteps as well as an ongoing pattern of institutional failings. They also show how the health system struggled, crippled partly by top-down bureaucracy and inflexible procedures that made it hard to address the crisis.

In particular, they show that local patients were diagnosed concerningly slowly. Documents from March show that the average time between the time a person’s symptoms showed up and their confirmed diagnosis was 23.3 days, due partly to inferior mechanisms for testing and reporting. Experts say this could have had a negative impact on monitoring and fighting the disease.

Despite their many shortcomings, China’s State Council released a White Paper on June 7 stating that the communist government had always released information about the pandemic in a “timely, open and transparent fashion.”

A senior fellow for global health with the Council on Foreign Relations, Yanzhong Huang, said: “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.” He added that many of the “suspected” cases should have been included in the confirmed cases.

Vanderbilt University Professor of Infectious Diseases William Schaffner said that the data “would have been presented in a different way had U.S. epidemiologists been there to assist.”


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