First confirmed case of COVID-19 was November 17

pasted image 0 15

November 17, 2019, was not a lucky day for travel or seeing the doctor, according to this Chinese zodiac calendar. Image source: Sohu.

Based on unpublished “government data,” the South China Morning Post reports:

Chinese authorities have so far identified at least 266 people who were infected last year, all of whom came under medical surveillance at some point. Some of the cases were likely backdated after health authorities had tested specimens taken from suspected patients…

According to the government data seen by the Post, a 55 year-old from Hubei province could have been the first person to have contracted COVID-19 on November 17.

From that date onwards, one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 — the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 — and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.

This does not appear to be evidence of an additional cover-up: The SCMP notes, “Interviews with whistle-blowers from the medical community suggest Chinese doctors only realized they were dealing with a new disease in late December.”

For details on the cover-ups that did happen, see this Wall Street Journal article: How it all started: China’s early coronavirus missteps (paywall):

China’s errors, dating back to the very first patients, were compounded by political leaders who dragged their feet to inform the public of the risks and to take decisive control measures.

See also in the SCMP: Why did China’s multimillion-dollar early warning system fail? 

More COVID-19 news and views:

Chinese officials and state media continue to spread the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and may have been a military bioweapon. See these tweets from the Global Times: 1, 2, 3, 4. Economist magazine defense editor Shashank Joshi commented:

Terrifying that China is turning up the disinformation machine at precisely the moment when global cooperation and clear information is so important. Terrible indictment of Chinese government worldview and priorities. Conspiracy spread directly and knowingly by [China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs].  

See also this New York Times article: China spins tale that the U.S. Army started the coronavirus epidemic (porous paywall).

China continues to promote its role as a provider of global goods and a responsible international stakeholder. Today’s top story in English and all other foreign-language versions of Xinhua is: Xi talks with UN chief, calling for urgent int’l action against COVID-19.

Despite a headline that will bring joy to Party propagandists — “China bought the West time. The West squandered it” — this essay (porous paywall) by Ian Johnson makes some excellent points in asking the question: “Why did so many countries watch the epidemic unfold for weeks as though it was none of their concern?”

“The coronavirus epidemic will not be China’s Chernobyl moment,” writes scholar J. Michael Cole in the Globe and Mail. I couldn’t agree more: See my essay The coming biosecurity state, on how the COVID-19 epidemic and the government cleanup of its aftermath will probably lead to invasive new forms of surveillance.

Evidence that discontent with the Party may not be popular: “Chinese netizens are lashing out at a popular vlogger after she felt compelled to apologize for the coronavirus as it spreads rapidly in other countries,” reports Sixth Tone.

—Jeremy Goldkorn