Did China withhold information about COVID-19? | Updated: 2020-04-29 09:45

The following is one of the 16 most common rumors about the COVID-19 epidemic related to China, compiled and published by the Chinese embassy in Germany. The original version was published in Chinese and German. China Daily did some minor editing and updated a few figures in translation.

A worker sterilizes the square in front of Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province, on Jan 23, 2020. [Photo by Zhou Guoqiang/]

Rumor: China has withheld key information about the epidemic, which has led to a worldwide pandemic.

Fact: China has notified the world as early as possible, and resorted to the strictest epidemic control measures, which gave at least six weeks for other countries to get prepared for the outbreak.

China has notified the WHO at an early stage.

1. On Dec 31, the WHO China Office was informed of pneumonia cases of unknown cause detected in Wuhan.

2. Starting Jan 3, China began to share epidemic data with the WHO, Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions, and other countries including the United States.

3. On Jan 8, the National Health Commission expert panel made an initial judgement that the novel coronavirus caused the epidemic.

4. On Jan 12, China submitted to the WHO the genome sequence of the novel coronavirus, which was published by the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data and shared globally.

5. On Jan 16, China optimized the PCR Diagnostic Reagent

6. On Jan 20, the National Health Commission notified that the novel coronavirus could pass among humans, based on clinical evidence.

The timeline was confirmed by the WHO on its website:

The subtext to accuse China for withholding information is that China had known the virus is dangerous and didn't want to be honest about it, which is not true. For a completely new virus, there was limited scientific evidence indicating the pathogen could lead to a pandemic.

Moreover, when the virus was later confirmed to be transmissible among humans and that it was potentially more dangerous than the seasonal flu, China adopted the strictest and most comprehensive control measures, including locking down the city of Wuhan on Jan 23, and restricting movement of the entire 60 million residents in Hubei province two days later. A latest article published on Science said the travel quarantine of Wuhan had a marked effect on the international scale, where case importations were reduced by nearly 80 percent until mid-February.

When Wuhan was placed on lockdown, 571 domestic infections on the Chinese mainland and 9 total overseas cases had been reported, none of them in Europe, according to the National Health Commission. When China suspended all outbound tourist travel on Jan 27, the Chinese mainland had 2,744 infections, China's Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan had 17 infections, and the rest of the world had reported 33, three in Europe. By Feb 23 – a month after Wuhan was put on lockdown – the global tally was 78,811, of which only 2.2 percent were outside China. Between this period, only a handful of countries, save for East Asian nations, had adopted any form of effective prevention measures.

The Trump administration had been downplaying the severity and danger of COVID-19 until early March. The surge of confirmed cases in China within a month and half, as well as the unprecedented lockdown of the Wuhan city, could not have sent a clearer and louder warning. The New York Times has published an investigative piece on April 11 on this topic.

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