China appears to have underreported the severity of its COVID-19 cases during the early weeks of the outbreak, a development that supports allegations made by President Trump and others of China’s attempt to cover up the severity of the early outbreak.
In the first significant leak of information, 117 pages of documents obtained by CNN outline the missteps and perhaps calculated misinformation from Chinese health authorities. The data from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention was sent to CNN by a whistleblower claiming to work in the Chinese health community. The pages reflect data for Feb. 10 and March 7.
At the believed epicenter of the virus in February, the report says, Hubei province authorities failed to report thousands of new cases.
In a section marked “internal document, please keep confidential” on Feb. 10, China, having reported 2,478 new infections, had privately recorded twice as many—5,918. The death toll, too, appears to be downplayed. On March 7, per CNN, documents place the death toll in Hubei at 3,456; published figures suggested it was 2,986.
Leading health experts believe the virus originated in Chinese bats before passing to humans, having launched in Wuhan in December. Though there is no proof that Chinese political officials tried to conceal information, Chinese health officials’ fear of reprisal likely played a role.
U.S. intelligence reportedly indicates China’s slow initial response may have been because of poor communication and, per a New York Times report in August, U.S. intelligence officials cited fear of punishment as a reason for health officials’ hesitance to report accurate statistics. Whistleblowers in Hubei have also claimed they were prevented from speaking publicly about the coronavirus as it spread in December.
China has consistently denied cover-up allegations, calling them “a calculated slur,” per Bloomberg news.