China underreported Covid-19 numbers by more than half as it downplayed the severity of the virus and their failure to quickly diagnose cases in the early stages of the pandemic, according to leaked documents.
A series of revelations in 117 pages of internal documents from the Hubei Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, obtained by CNN, shows how the Chinese Communist Party withheld vital information as the world grappled to contain the rapidly spreading virus.
On 10 February, China publicly reported 2,478 new confirmed cases while privately reporting 5,918 new cases – a 139 per cent difference.
On 17 February, China publicly reported new deaths in Hubei province, where the pandemic is believed to have originated in Wuhan, at 93 while privately reporting 196 – a difference of more than double.
On 7 March, China publicly reported the death total in Hubei at 2,986 while privately reporting 3,456.
The documents provide insight into the health care system’s response to the pandemic between October 2019 and April 2020.
As recently as March near the peak of the pandemic, Chinese authorities took an average of 23.3 days – more than three weeks – from the onset of symptoms to positively diagnose confirmed cases of Covid-19.
An audit of testing kits found they were ineffective at detecting Covid-19, while lack of personal protective equipment forced health officials to make the virus inactive before testing.
“Retrospective testing on the early samples… found that the samples that showed negative SARS testing kits are mostly positive for the new coronavirus,” the document said, according to CNN’s reporting.
“[Private companies contracted by the CDC used extraction re-agents and simple liquids] that inhibit each other, and false negative results appear.”
The documents also showed an undisclosed outbreak of influenza from December 2019 in Hubei province, more severe in Yichang and Xianning than in Wuhan.
The internal data showed a 2,059 per cent increase over 2018 that had not been previously reported.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Health Commission and the Hubei Health Commission did not respond to the documents’ findings when contacted by CNN.
“It was clear they did make mistakes — and not just mistakes that happen when you’re dealing with a novel virus — also bureaucratic and politically-motivated errors in how they handled it,” Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the outlet.
“These had global consequences. You can never guarantee 100% transparency. It’s not just about any intentional cover-up, you are also constrained with by technology and other issues with a novel virus.”
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