China “withheld crucial information” about coronavirus from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the early days of the pandemic, according to leaked audio recordings.
George Gao, director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, held vital information about the novel virus for almost two weeks before China announced Covid-19’s genomic sequence, according to a new BBC documentary tonight set to be aired tonight.
Testimonies first obtained by the Associated Press claimed that Gao assured virologists the new coronavirus strain was “not highly transmissible” and declined an offer of support from the international scientific community.
Virologist Dr Ian Lipkin told the BBC: “This didn’t resonate with me because I had heard about many, many people who had been infected.
“I don’t think he was duplicitous, I think he was just wrong. He should have released some sequences and said ‘this is what we know, these are the sequences we have.”
Chinese doctors who first alerted the public of a possible virus outbreak were labelled by state media as “rumour mongers”.
Whistleblower Li Wenliang sparked international outrage after the Wuhan doctor died from coronavirus, having previously warned fellow medics warning of a virus he thought looked like Sars.
Li was told by police to “stop making false comments” and was investigated for “spreading rumours”.
Speaking to the BBC, a health worker from Wuhan Central Hospital that “everyone knew it was human to human transmission” in the early days of the virus.
“Even a fool would know. So why say there is no human transmission? This made us very confused… The hospital told us that we were not allowed to speak to anyone. They wouldn’t even let us wear masks. They said they were afraid of causing panic among the patients.”
The documentary comes amid growing international scrutiny of China’s initial handling of the outbreak, which has so far infected more than 99.3m people and caused more than 2.1m deaths around the world.
The WHO has been slammed for praising China despite questions over the suppression of early warnings and information.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously hailed Beijing for “setting a new standard for outbreak response” as it rapidly built new hospitals and enforced quarantine zones in Wuhan to try and contain the virus.