In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicentre of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began travelling through for Lunar New Year celebrations.
President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by then, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and estimates based on retrospective infection data.
The delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus.
The six-day delay by China’s leaders in Beijing came on top of almost two weeks during which the national Center for Disease Control did not register any new cases, internal bulletins obtained by the AP confirmed. Yet during that time, from Jan. 5 to Jan. 17, hundreds of patients were appearing in hospitals not just in Wuhan – which finally reopened last week – but across the country.
China’s rigid controls on information, bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send bad news up the chain of command muffled early warnings, experts said. Without these internal reports, it took the first case outside China, in Thailand on Jan. 13, to galvanize leaders in Beijing into recognizing the possible pandemic before them.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied suppressing information in the early days, saying it immediately reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization.
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Categories: Wuhan Coronavirus