Chinese President Xi Jinping. Noel Celis – Pool/Getty Images
Leaked documents reveal that China significantly underreported the number of coronavirus cases in the early stages of the pandemic.
Health data from Chinese health authorities leaked to CNN shows that officials in the Hubei province, where the virus is believed to have originated, failed to report thousands of new daily cases.
On February 10 — when China reported 2,478 new cases — officials privately recorded 5,918 new cases, more than double the published figure.
There is no evidence in the files that provide evidence that Chinese officials sought deliberately to conceal the true extent of the outbreak.
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A tranche of leaked documents has revealed that China’s government significantly underreported the number of coronavirus cases in the early stages of the pandemic.
An extensive set of health data from Chinese health authorities leaked to CNN shows that health officials in the Hubei province, where the virus is believed to have originated, failed to report thousands of new daily cases in the early stages of the pandemic.
On February 10 — when China reported 2,478 new cases — officials privately recorded 5,918 new cases, more than double the published figure, per CNN.
The underreporting was exacerbated by a slow-turnaround in identifying cases. One of the leaked documents reveals that in early March the average time between an individual exhibiting symptoms and diagnosis was 23.3 days, CNN reported.
Experts have traced the origins of COVID-19 to China, and believe the virus almost certainly originated in Chinese bats before passing to humans. The virus appears to have been circulating in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and January before the first large outbreak was reported in a wet market there.
The incomplete data set, leaked to CNN by a whistleblower who said they work inside the Chinese health system, provides a large amount of data for February 10 and March 7, two days early on in the coronavirus outbreak as it began to spread across the world.
By March 7, health officials also appeared to still be underreporting the death toll by a significant margin. Per CNN, the documents show that the total death toll in Hubei was 3,456, while published figures suggested it was 2,986.
The documents also reveal that the early stages of the pandemic coincided with a significant reported influenza outbreak in Hubei with cases 20 times higher than the previous year. The flu outbreak was first identified in Wuhan in December and in particular in the cities of Yichang and Xianning, CNN reported.
There is no evidence in the files that provides evidence that Chinese officials sought deliberately to conceal the true extent of the coronavirus outbreak.
But the leak is nonetheless significant because it fuels allegations made by President Trump and others, that China sought to cover up the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in its early stages and let it spread across the world.
A May 1 report by the US Department of Homeland Security, obtained by the Associated Press, reportedly said that Chinese leaders “intentionally concealed the severity” of the coronavirus outbreak in January while it hoarded medical equipment.
It said that China failed to inform the World Health Organisation for weeks in January that the new coronavirus was highly infectious while at the same time significantly increasing imports of face masks and surgical gowns that could be used by health officials treating coronavirus patients.
China has consistently denied allegations that it intentionally covered coronavirus data, calling it “a calculated slur,” per Bloomberg.
Whistleblowers in Hubei have also claimed they were prevented from speaking publicly about the coronavirus as it spread in December.
However, US intelligence also reportedly indicates that much of the Chinese government’s slow response to the outbreak in its early stages may also have been the result of poor communication by officials.
Per a New York Times report in August, US intelligence officials believe that local health officials in Wuhan originally underreported the severity of the coronavirus outbreak to officials in Beijing, probably because they feared being punished.
Health experts told CNN that the country had made mistakes in the early stages of the pandemic.
“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.
“These had global consequences. You can never guarantee 100% transparency. It’s not just about any intentional cover-up, you are also constrained with by technology and other issues with a novel virus. But even if they had been 100% transparent, that would not stop the Trump administration downplaying the seriousness of it. It would probably not have stopped this developing into a pandemic.”
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