Government-funded Chinese researchers recently published findings on the deadly new coronavirus that contradicts China’s accounts on when the outbreak first struck Wuhan.
According to the paper published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, data on the 425 first confirmed coronavirus cases in Wuhan revealed that the outbreak began in December 2019, with seven health care workers contracting the virus between Jan. 1 and Jan. 11, significantly earlier than the Chinese government officially confirmed the outbreak.
“On the basis of this information, there is evidence that human-to-human transmission has occurred among close contacts since the middle of December 2019,” the paper reads.
Wuhan health officials had earlier stated that no health care workers had been infected as of January 11, and until mid-January there was “no clear evidence” that the virus could be transmitted among people. The public was not officially warned of the outbreak until January 20 via an interview broadcasted on CCTV.
The paper also revealed that 55% of the 47 infected patients before January 1 were linked to the ground zero site, a seafood and live-animal market in Wuhan. The other patients either were infected elsewhere or from other people.
The paper’s findings caused a massive backlash on Chinese social media, as many voiced distrust of the government regarding why the information was not published earlier.
“They all knew,” a user on the Weibo microblogging platform said. “They just didn’t say, but lied to us.”
“If only they could have told people earlier, we could have taken better preventive measures, and the virus would not have spread this fast,” another wrote on the Weibo platform.
Some social media users blamed the researchers for not alerting the public earlier, while others stated that perhaps the researchers were censored by the government from talking earlier.
“Perhaps the researchers did not have a way to share their findings, and publishing it in a scientific journal was their last resort to warn the public,” one WeChat user wrote on a group discussion.
China has long had a history of government censorship. In December 2019, eight doctors were detained for “spreading false rumors” about the then-unknown coronavirus on the internet.
China responded to the recent public outcry by stating that they only learned about the earlier infected health care workers after National Health Commission expert alerted the public on January 20.