Chinese officials stayed silent for six days after learning that they were likely facing a coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press reports.
Chinese President Xi Jinping did not warn the public until a week after officials secretly determined the extent of the coronavirus threat in January, after more than 3,000 people had been infected in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at UCLA, told the outlet that the silence had a “tremendous” impact on the outbreak.
“If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient,” Zhang said. “We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”
Delay came as hundreds fell ill:
The six-day delay came after two weeks during which the country’s Center for Disease Control did not record any coronavirus cases.
But during that time, hundreds of patients were hospitalized in Wuhan and other parts of the country.
It’s unclear whether local officials did not report the cases or whether federal officials did not record the cases but the country quickly launched a campaign to crack down on doctors warning about the virus.
“Doctors in Wuhan were afraid,” Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, told the AP. “It was truly intimidation of an entire profession.”
Chinese officials have denied the allegations and said it reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization.
“Those accusing China of lacking transparency and openness are unfair,” a foreign ministry official told the AP.
Memo had stark warning:
Documents obtained by the AP issued a stark warning from Chinese officials in mid-January.
“The epidemic situation is still severe and complex, the most severe challenge since SARS in 2003, and is likely to develop into a major public health event,” top health official Ma Xiaowei said in a memo.
The memo warned that “clustered cases suggest that human-to-human transmission is possible.”
“With the coming of the Spring Festival, many people will be traveling, and the risk of transmission and spread is high,” the memo warned. “All localities must prepare for and respond to a pandemic.”
But officials continued to downplay the threat in public.
“We have reached the latest understanding that the risk of sustained human-to-human transmission is low,” CDC chief Li Quin said publicly at the time.