China covered up the severity of COVID-19 and delayed telling the World Health Organization in order to import more medical supplies to respond to it, according to a new report by the Department for Homeland Security, seen by the Associated Press.
- China “intentionally concealed the severity” of the novel coronavirus, while ramping up imports and decreasing exports of medical supplies according to the report, dated May 1 and seen by AP.
- Chinese authorities also held off from telling the WHO that the unknown illness was a “contagion”, to buy officials time to import more PPE, including facemasks and surgical gowns, the DHS report found.
- The report adds that China denied “there were export restrictions” and delayed releasing its trade data, and that there was a “95% probability” that changes in China’s trading behaviour were not within normal range, AP reported.
- The report comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend doubled down on unsubstantiated claims from the Trump administration that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan lab. Last week, the director of national intelligence said there was no evidence that the virus was man made.
- The U.S. and China have locked horns over the coronavirus crisis, inflaming earlier trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies and President Donald Trump seeks to shift blame on China for downplaying the virus and trying to thwart his chances of reelection in November.
- China has previously denied any cover-up and said the U.S. had months of warning about the severity of the outbreak, while critics say Trump was too slow to respond to the virus at home.
Trump appeared to fire back at suggestions he did not act fast enough on the outbreak, and tweeted that intelligence agencies “only spoke of the virus in a very non-threatening, or matter of fact, manner,” suggesting that they had not outlined the severity of the virus right away.
COVID-19 was first reported in late 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan. China’s handling of the early stages of the pandemic—and its tight grip on information—has been increasingly under the spotlight, with Germany, Australia and the EU calling for an investigation tracing the origins of the illness. China alerted the World Health Organization of the novel coronavirus outbreak on January 8, and according to a previous AP investigation, waited six days in January before alerting citizens of a possible severe outbreak of the then-unknown illness. But authorities were warned of the outbreak at the end of December, and attempted to suppress the information. Whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang had warned fellow doctors about a new outbreak and told them to protect themselves, but he was accused by authorities of illegally making false comments and warned by police to stop. Wenliang died in February after contracting coronavirus.