The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the Chinese government does not know the full extent of the coronavirus outbreak within the country, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
China’s government has encountered difficulties collecting accurate data on the spread of the coronavirus because mid-level bureaucrats in Wuhan and elsewhere in China have been lying about the number of cases, current and former intelligence officials told the Times. Local administration officials in China fear that their superiors will punish and even fire them if they report high numbers of cases.
U.S. intelligence believes that China does conceal the extent of the outbreak known to higher-level Communist Party officials. However, because of inaccurate reporting of cases at local levels of government, the C.I.A. and other agencies have themselves been unable to determine the full scope of coronavirus cases in China.
While doctors in Wuhan were sounding the alarm about the then-unidentified illness in late December and early January, local government and hospital administrators attempted to prevent doctors from spreading news of the infections, the Wall Street Journal reported. In one case, the administration of Wuhan Central Hospital reprimanded Dr. Ai Fen, head of the hospital’s emergency department, for “spreading rumors” and damaging “the stability of Wuhan” after she alerted authorities to the spread of the SARS-like virus.
On Tuesday Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, suggested that the U.S. responded slowly to the pandemic in part because of faulty data from China.
“The medical community interpreted the Chinese data as, this was serious, but smaller than anyone expected,” Birx said at a press conference. “Because, probably … we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that we see what happened to Italy and we see what happened to Spain.