Authorities in China knowingly sacrificed its health workers to maintain their lies and downplay the threat of coronavirus pandemic for several critical weeks, a recent report has said.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to silence doctors not only fuelled the pandemic but also compromised the world’s ability to spot the next one, Foreign Policy said in a report.The Chinese authorities, instead of notifying the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of pneumonia, decided to censor information and conceal the virus, whilst silencing doctors who tried to warn their colleagues.
According to Foreign Policy, despite growing infections – hospital authorities refused to believe that the spread of the virus among humans was possible or that staff members were infected. “These falsehoods eventually influenced the WHO’s decision to not immediately declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, which it did for Ebola, Zika and H1N1 virus.”
“The delayed understanding of transmission dynamics cost the lives of unknown numbers of health care workers in China, contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands more abroad, and superpowered the pandemic,” the report said.
According to the report, by December 27, 2019, Wuhan authorities knew that the virus threat was serious, as several patients without links to the market had been identified, and at least one health care worker had been infected. “Doctors understood the threat and tried to warn others, but Chinese authorities stopped them before doing so,” it further said.
The authorities instead engaged in a pattern of demonstrable lying and covering up, threatening doctors involved in early warnings and restricting information. When China formally acknowledged the outbreak, authorities told the WHO they had no idea what was causing it.
When the WHO asked China to verify the outbreak, Wuhan Public Security Bureau reported it had “taken measures” against eight “law breakers” and warned against “manufacturing, believing, or spreading rumors”, instead of replying within 24 hours.The Chinese government’s cover up led WHO experts to make mistakes, when on January 5, it passed on its minimal information from Beijing in a post entitled “Pneumonia of Unknown Cause”, writes Foreign Policy.
While the Chinese government was denying human-to-human transmission, on December 31, health authorities began transferring 59 known and suspected cases to Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital. At the infectious disease unit, a cast-iron gate kept family members out, while inside, security guards prevented medical staff from leaving.
On January 11 and 12, Chinese authorities told the WHO there had been no new cases since January 3, but in fact, at least 20 health care workers already had confirmed COVID-19, and dozens more had been clinically diagnosed.
Beijing’s announcement on February 14 that 1,716 health care workers had been infected sent shock waves around the medical world. Of those, 230 people were staff at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, one of the hospitals at the epicentre of the outbreak.
According to Foreign Policy, China’s medical censorship is dangerous because physicians are indispensable for surveillance of emerging threats.
“The Chinese government’s attempt to cover up SARS led to the revision of the International Health Regulations and an international mindset that Beijing had learned its lesson, but the only lesson it learned was to better cover up outbreaks.”