An unprepared China downplayed the spread of the coronavirus in February and kept thousands of confirmed daily cases secret as the pandemic quickly spread around the world, new documents revealed.
The coronavirus test results lasted more than 23 days on average, and a previously undisclosed influenza outbreak rocked the future epicenter of the pandemic in December. This is revealed in secret documents from the Hubei Province Center for Disease Control and Prevention that have been leaked to CNN.
China's government has claimed it was transparent in its public statements about the coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan city, Hubei province late last year.
Chinese officials reported 2,478 coronavirus cases in a single day in February, while officials in Hubei – the home of Wuhan – had a confidential list of 5,918 new cases from that day. Medical workers are walking at Wuhan's Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25th
Chinese President Xi Jinping, leader of the Communist Party, faced a legitimacy crisis when the novel coronavirus spread in early 2020. While aggressively seeking to lock down the country, the government's propensity to avoid reporting bad news has likely resulted in a significant under-number of coronavirus cases and deaths, analysts say
The Chinese State Council claimed in June that the government had always disclosed coronavirus information "in a timely, open and transparent manner."
But on one day, February 10, the government reported 2,478 new coronavirus cases, while officials in Hubei had a confidential list of 5,918 new cases from that day.
The documents indicate that the government has under-reported the number of deaths from COVID.
The daily confirmed number of virus deaths in Hubei is given as 196 on February 17. However, Hubei publicly reported only 93 deaths that day.
While the government officially counted 2,986 deaths since the disease began on March 7, internal documents put the death toll at 3,456, representing 647 "clinically diagnosed" deaths and 126 "suspected" deaths.
Medical workers wearing protective clothing to stop the spread of coronavirus work at Wuhan's Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25, 2020
The government appeared to be using the "suspect" category to disguise the actual number of coronavirus-related deaths and coronavirus cases, CNN reported.
The discrepancy between the numbers reported to the public and those Hubei officials had access to is likely due to both a propensity to suppress bad news and a flawed reporting system, analysts told the news network.
"It was clear they were making mistakes – and not just mistakes made while dealing with a novel virus – but also bureaucratic and politically motivated mistakes in dealing with it," said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow on global health at the council on Foreign Relations, said CNN.
All of these sub-reports after Chinese President Xi Jinping took aggressive measures to lock down much of the country. More than 700 million were locked in their homes as the government used sophisticated surveillance technology to enforce the lockdown.
The Communist Party's legitimacy has been at stake in a country where people have traded personal freedom for stability and increasing prosperity. Coronavirus threatened all of that.
While Hubei officials presented their response to the virus as efficient, documents showed that it took more than three weeks for test results to come back in March, making it nearly impossible to get an accurate snapshot of the spread of COVID.
The confirmed cases also showed 30 to 50 percent positivity when the tests came back – meaning most tests came back as "false negatives."
A man has his temperature checked in front of a barricade where parishioners check who enters and leaves a residential street on February 24, 2020 in Beijing, China
Doctors identified the first coronavirus patient in Wuhan on December 1, according to the Lancet. The same weed in Hubei province saw traditional flu cases rise more than 2,000% from the same week last year, according to CNN.
Xianning and Yichan, two cities near Wuhan, were worst hit by influenza.
It is not clear whether there is a link between the influenza epidemic and COVID-19 infections.
In the year the virus was first discovered, the COVID-19 pandemic infected over 63 million people and killed nearly 1.5 million people worldwide.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will video-speak to patients and medical staff at Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on March 10.
A whistleblower passed the files on to CNN, which confirmed their legitimacy with six experts.
The whistleblower's action commemorates the efforts of Dr. Li Wenliang to warn the public about the novel disease in Wuhan at the beginning of the epidemic.
Li, an ophthalmologist, attracted public attention after police reprimanded him and accused him of posting "false news" on social media on December 30th about warning of "SARS in a Wuhan fish market."
Li, 34, died of coronavirus in February after contracting a patient.
His death caused an uproar among the country's social media users who criticized their government for controlling freedom of expression and trying to cover up Li's death.
Dr. Li Wenliang, 34, who died of the coronavirus in February after being punished for raising alarm about the outbreak, was given the honorary title of "an advanced person."