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Cover-ups and mess-ups in Wuhan

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Global COVID-19 cases as of February 27, 2020, from Johns Hopkins CSSE.

Three recently published articles point to a cover-up — or at best a mess-up — in Wuhan, which delayed reporting of the emerging coronavirus outbreak to China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wasting valuable weeks in the early days of the epidemic.

In the Washington Post, scholar Dali Yang writes:

Why did China’s CDC system, once touted as among the world’s best disease control programs, fail to help contain the virus early on?

…According to Féng Zijiàn 冯子健, deputy director general of the China CDC, the direct reporting system was “not activated that expeditiously” [by the Wuhan Health Commission or WHC].

Two separate sources [links in Chinese] reveal that Gāo Fú 高福 [director general of China’s CDC] himself was the real sentinel of the coronavirus outbreak. In the evening of December 30, Gao Fu noticed from scanning group-chats that the WHC had just issued two internal notices on atypical pneumonia cases. Alarmed that such information had not been submitted to the national reporting system, he called the Wuhan CDC head and learned that the number of cases was well above the threshold for reporting. Troubled by what he heard — and didn’t hear — Gao immediately alerted the National Health Commission (NHC) leadership. The following day, Decemeber 31, the NHC dispatched a national team of experts to Wuhan to investigate…

What ensued in Wuhan has received enormous coverage. As Wuhan and Hubei political leaders met in Wuhan for annual meetings, WHC kept the number of the infected artificially low, and repeatedly downplayed the risks of contagion. Wuhan officials also pushed ahead with large public gatherings ahead of the Lunar New Year, which helped spread the virus.

There’s more detail in an article from Caixin published yesterday and swiftly censored. In brief:  

On December 24, a Wuhan hospital sent a virus sample to the WHC. It was sequenced on December 27, but on January 1, an official from the Hubei Health Commission ordered the destruction of the virus sample, and for no information about it to be leaked.

A separate report from Caijing, also now deleted from the Chinese internet, features an interview with a member of the second team of experts dispatched to Wuhan on January 8. This was prior to Dr. Zhōng Nánshān’s 钟南山 confirmation of the disease’s human to human transmission on January 20. The piece reveals that the group, which visited six hospitals in the area and met with local health officials, was deliberately kept in the dark about infected medical staff, effectively preventing earlier public confirmation that the disease was transmissible between humans.

We have archived copies of both censored articles here (in Chinese).  

—Jeremy Goldkorn

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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.

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