Covid: Questions remain after Chinese government leak suggests early coronavirus cover-up

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

It is rare for Chinese government documents to be leaked. Anyone found to have committed such an act would face prison and be made to suffer for their betrayal.

The internal data given to CNN adds to other evidence, and speculation, that China concealed information, under-reported its cases and was in a state of chaos in the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Some of the standout figures in the Hubei Province papers show that on one day in February the government reported 93 deaths, but there were 196 registered.

It is now true to say that many countries, including the UK, have figures that don’t tell the whole story of their national pandemic situation. The difference is that in China there will be no post-pandemic inquiry allowed, no investigation into their data.

This comes as no surprise to some of those we spoke to today in Wuhan. We met Zhu Tao, who lost two relatives to the virus. He compared the situation to SARS and said once again the government tried its best to cover up the truth and prevent information from leaking.

He told me that in a country ruled by such political system, it is normal to have such thing happen.

We returned to Wuhan a year to the day since doctors treated the first patient with virus symptoms.

On the surface we found a city which looks completely recovered. Masks are now commonplace, but the streets are bustling, and social distancing is a thing of the past, if it was ever enforced.

It is only by meeting people like Zhong Han Neng that you gain an insight into the grief and suffering still so raw for those who endured this pandemic first.

Han Neng’s 39-year-old son died after contracting the virus. She believes he would still be alive today if the government had been open and warned people in Wuhan sooner.

In the documents leaked to CNN it was revealed that in the early months of the outbreak it was taking an average of 23 days to diagnose a case.

For Han Nengs son it took more than two weeks and in that time he failed to get the treatment that might have saved his life.

It’s hard to believe that 12 months have passed since the first cases of Covid-19 emerged. At that time the virus was being compared to SARS, it didn’t have a name and nobody could have imagined the devastating consequences it would have, and continues to have, around the world.

In recent weeks the Chinese Government has stepped up its propaganda campaign, suggesting that although the first cluster of cases was detected in Wuhan, the city is not necessarily where the virus originated.

An exhibition charting how China beat Covid-19.

It points to cases of a flu-like virus reported in Italy, and in India before the outbreak in Wuhan.

This comes as the country stalls on an international investigation into the origin, with the World Health Organisation still waiting to receive permission to come back to Wuhan, and to look at evidence taken from the Huanan wet market.

So far only Chinese investigation teams have been given access to the market dubbed Ground Zero of Covid-19. Looking at it now, all boarded up, there is likely little left for the WHO to examine when they do return.

It seems there are still more questions than answers regard when, how and why this pandemic happened. The Chinese Government insist they have been open and transparent, but without independent scrutiny of their claims, that statement is hard to defend.