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Leaked documents reveal China hid severity of its coronavirus outbreak (Times)

6 December 2020


Times title: Leaked documents reveal China hid severity of its coronavirus outbreak

By: Louise Watt (Taipei)

Date: 1 December 2020

“China hid the severity of its coronavirus outbreak as the virus spread around the world by publicly under-reporting case numbers, according to leaked documents.

The authorities in Hubei province, whose capital is Wuhan, failed to quickly diagnose cases in the early weeks and months of the outbreak with its health system taking more than three weeks to return test results, hampering steps to monitor and control the virus.

The revelations are contained in a report leaked to CNN, based on 117 pages of documents from the Hubei Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan in late December last year, before spreading across the globe.

The documents cover an incomplete period from October 2019 to April of this year.

The Chinese government under-reported the number of deaths from the coronavirus, according to the documents. On February 17, for example, the daily confirmed death toll in Hubei was 196, but authorities announced just 93.

On March 7 the public total death toll in Hubei since the outbreak began stood at 2,986, but an internal report lists 3,456.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs and National Health Commission, and Hubei’s Health Commission, which oversees the province’s disease control centre, did not respond to requests for comment.

Chinese officials have consistently said the country has been “open and transparent” in releasing information about the coronavirus.

“The Chinese government did not delay or cover up anything,” the National Health Commission chairman, Ma Xiaowei, said in June as he released an official report into the government’s response to the coronavirus.

“Instead, we have immediately reported virus data and relevant information about the epidemic to the international community and made an important contribution to the prevention and control of the epidemic around the world.”

As well as the inaccurate death toll, the overall number of cases was also under-reported. The documents cite three days in February and March where China’s actual number of new Covid cases was substantially higher than reported in official figures.

On February 10 the Chinese authorities said there were 2,478 new confirmed cases of coronavirus. Privately, however, local health authorities knew that the real number was more than double that at 5,918 new cases.

This discrepancy was probably due to a combination of a highly dysfunctional reporting system and “a recurrent instinct to suppress bad news,” according to analysts.

As the virus has taken hold around the world, with Europe and North America suffering second waves of infections, China is now reporting just a handful of new cases each day.

The leaked documents also reveal that testing for the coronavirus was inaccurate from the start, and that there were weeks-long delays in returning correct results. One document in early March stated there was an average 23-day lag in diagnosing new cases from the onset of symptoms.

The documents also reveal for the first time that there was a significant outbreak of influenza in Hubei province in December, putting added pressure on to Hubei’s healthcare system as the coronavirus was emerging. Cases of influenza were 20 times higher than the previous year, and the city of Wuhan was the third worst-hit in the province.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN that “it was clear” that authorities had made mistakes in the early months of the coronavirus.

“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 said.”





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