The Chinese government knew that a new type of coronavirus could be transmitted from person to person and trigger an epidemic at least six days before it was officially announced. At this time, doctors were forbidden to wear masks, and the number of cases rose to 3 thousand people.
According to the documents that were in the possession of the Associated Press, the period of silence fell on January 14–20, 2020. The delay was not the first mistake made by the Chinese authorities in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, nor the longest lag – some countries did not introduce quarantine and other measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 for weeks or months.
But the six-day delay in disclosing full information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus by the first country in which it was fixed occurred at a critical time – at the beginning of the outbreak.
This led to the fact that China’s attempt to find a middle ground between protecting the population from coronavirus and preventing panic paved the way for a global pandemic, as a result of which more than 2 million people fell ill and 137 thousand died, the newspaper notes.
How did the COVID-19 epidemic begin?
On December 31, Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of the first case of community-acquired pneumonia caused by an unknown virus. The incident occurred in the city of Wuhan – according to Chinese authorities, an employee of the city fish market became infected.
Alternative data exist on the first patient, Fox News, citing several sources informed about the actions of the Chinese authorities in the early stages of the epidemic, calls the Wuhan Institute of Virology the place where the epidemic began. According to the publication, one of his employees contracted a new type of bat coronavirus and then spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to humans.
According to the publication, bats that were the first carriers of the virus were never sold on the fish market in Wuhan. And the Chinese authorities distributed a version with a fish market in order to hide the leak from the laboratory.
Be that as it may, the country’s authorities almost immediately announced the spread of a new infection but noted that the virus is not transmitted from person to person. In this regard, the government did not cancel the celebration of the Chinese New Year in Wuhan, which was attended by more than 40 thousand people.
Despite statements by authorities, a few days later, symptoms of a new disease were discovered by doctors who looked after patients at the Wuhan Central Hospital and never visited the fish market. When in early January, doctors tried to report the danger of the disease to the city health commission, they were first accused of causing panic, and then they began to call the police and their superiors for conversations.
From January 5 to 10 in Wuhan, not a single patient with a new type of coronavirus was officially registered. The same situation repeated from January 12 to 16 – instead, doctors, according to the AP, were obliged to diagnose patients with a pulmonary infection.
Meanwhile, on January 13, the first case of a new type of coronavirus infection was recorded in Thailand. The next day, a confidential telephone conversation took place between the head of the National Health Commission of China, Ma Xiaowei, and Wuhan officials, in which the first said that “human-to-human transmission is possible” and that “all settlements should prepare and respond to the threat of a pandemic”.
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China🇨🇳. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 14, 2020
With this call, Xiaowei was supposed to transmit to the authorities of Wuhan the direct order of the leaders of the ruling party of China, Xi Jinping, on measures to combat the coronavirus, follows from the transcript of the conversation that the AP got acquainted with.
At the same time, the Wuhan Health Commission on the same day (January 14) stated that “it did not find evidence of transmission from person to person”.
The next day, Li Qun, head of the Center for Emergency Situations Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state television that “the risk of sustained transmission from person to person is low,” the AP reports.
How WHO reacted
At that time, the World Health Organization, which relied on country-reported incidence data, believed China to consider the low risk of a new type of coronavirus. “Preliminary studies by the Chinese authorities have not found clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus”, the WHO tweet on January 14 said.
On January 15, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention took emergency response measures of the highest level, the department said in an internal order. 14 working groups were created to collect information on coronavirus, train medical personnel, and monitor laboratories. The authorities of Wuhan were instructed to stop the mass events and begin checking the temperature of passengers at airports, at bus and railway stations.
On January 20, five days later, Xi Jinping issued an appeal in which he asked citizens to maintain social distance and avoid travel and trips. Immediately after this, the famous Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan announced that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is transmitted from one person to another.
According to agency estimates, in the six days of silence, COVID-19 got sick at least 3 thousand Chinese.
Experts interviewed by the publication diverged in assessing the actions of the Chinese authorities – some believe that the delay led to a greater number of infected patients around the world than if there hadn’t been; others say the government has begun taking steps to combat COVID-19 before it is officially announced.
Be that as it may, now COVID-19 is recorded in 185 countries around the world, and the number of cases has exceeded 2.06 million. According to WHO estimates, the peak of the epidemic has not yet been passed.