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China’s Information about the Virus Wasn’t Six Days Late, More Like Six Weeks Late

Passengers wear masks at the Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, China, January 21, 2020. (Aly Song/Reuters)

This morning, the Associated Press unveiled a deep dive into the response of the Chinese government to the coronavirus outbreak, and the article is sufficiently damning. But the headline “China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days” somewhat soft-pedals it, focusing on January 14 to January 20, after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, and the city of Wuhan hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people and millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations.

All of that is true and bad. And one could probably argue that the third week of January was indeed a pivotal moment in the spread of the virus. But it’s one of many pivotal moments, and focusing on that period suggests the regime covered up the danger of the virus and contagiousness for six days, when it is more accurate to say the coverup lasted about six weeks.

Giant red flags — no pun intended — about this virus started waving well before mid January. Even the Chinese CDC itself stated that “a cluster of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause occurred in Wuhan starting on December 21, 2019.”

Doctors in Wuhan believed the virus was spreading from patients to doctors by Christmas, which means evidence human-to-human transmission — contradicting the official assessment from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission — was present from early on, if not from the very beginning. The first fatal case, who had been to the Huanan Seafood Market, gave the virus to his wife, who had never been to the market. The Lancet study puts the onset of symptoms in the first recorded patient at December 1; on January 5, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission put the earliest onset at December 12.

The heroic late Dr. Li Wenliang sent his warning on December 30. He is the most famous, but other doctors in Wuhan tried to sound the alarm as widely as possible. But official authorities stopped them.

Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, told Chinese magazine People that she posted an image of a diagnostic report on social network WeChat on December 30, showing that the patient had a pneumonia infection caused by a Sars-like coronavirus.

Ai told the magazine she alerted the hospital’s community health service centre and infectious disease control department immediately.

According to the magazine, Ai said she was told by superiors the day she sounded the alarm that Wuhan’s health commission had issued a directive that medical workers were not to disclose anything about the virus, or the disease it caused, to avoid sparking a panic. Soon after, the hospital reminded all staff that public disclosure related to the illness was forbidden.

Two days later, an official in charge of the hospital’s supervision department gave Ai a dressing down for “spreading rumours” — a reference to the photograph she had posted online.

The official told Ai to notify all staff in her department not to disclose anything about the disease — and to say nothing about it to anyone, not even to her husband, according to the magazine.

(That article was quickly pulled from the publication’s website. Dr. Ai Fen suddenly disappeared two weeks ago; “while a video published on the Weibo account of Ai Fen suggests that she is free to move, Reporters Without Borders said that it hopes the video was not staged by the Chinese regime.”)

Other doctors in Wuhan were trying to sound the alarm in late December. A roughly-translated interview with Xie Linka, an oncologist at the Wuhan Union Hospital, describes her warnings to her colleagues December 30. Liu Wen, a doctor at Wuhan Hannan Red Cross Hospital, warned his colleagues and was called in to a police station as well.

This is all in December or the first days of January. The Chinese government did not deny the world a week’s worth of warning; at minimum, they denied the world three weeks of warning and perhaps as much as six or seven weeks, if they had shared the information about the first cases and new virus’s similarities to SARS.

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