Chinese doctors in Wuhan have been secretly filmed admitting that they knew how serious coronavirus was at the start of the outbreak but that they were ordered to lie by authorities.
The damning testimony, which adds to the growing evidence that the Chinese Communist Party intentionally misled the global community in the early stages of the pandemic, is contained in a new documentary by UK broadcaster ITV called Outbreak: The Virus That Shook The World.
China informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the first 27 cases of COVID-19 on December 31, 2019, but did not report any deaths until mid-January – and even then were insisting there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
But senior medical professionals in Wuhan, filmed by a citizen journalist, say they knew about deaths as early as December and that it was clear the virus was spreading between people.
“We all felt there shouldn’t have been any doubt about human-to-human transmission,” one doctor said in the footage, broadcast on Tuesday night UK time.
“Actually, at the end of December or beginning of January, the relative of someone I know died of this virus. Many of those living with him were also infected including people I know.”
Another doctor said: “We knew the virus transmitted from human to human, but when we attended a hospital meeting we were told not to speak out. Provincial government leaders told the hospitals not to tell the truth.”
The doctors claimed that authorities knew the January Lunar New Year celebrations would accelerate the spread of the virus but allowed them to go ahead anyway in order to “present a harmonious and prosperous society”.
“They shouldn’t have allowed any gatherings,” one said. “The provincial and local governments knew the threat but they continued to allow crowds.”
WHO infamously tweeted on January 14 about the virus: “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
By the time WHO issued its first situation report on January 21, at least 278 people in China were infected and the virus had spread to three other countries.
Taiwanese experts interviewed by the program backed up the Wuhan doctors’ testimony.
Dr Yin-Ching Chuang from the country’s Infectious Diseases Prevention and Treatment Network said his team struggled to get a clear answer about whether human-to-human transmission was occurring.
After they were granted permission to travel to China, the truth finally emerged in a meeting.
“We asked a lot of questions, very unwillingly they finally came out and said limited human-to-human transmission can’t be ruled out,” he said.
“What was the scale of infection? How big was this epidemic? How many patients were affected? We didn’t know. Only they knew this. Why didn’t China inform other countries of this human-to-human matter earlier?”
Reacting to the new revelations on Wednesday, Nationals backbencher Matt Canavan accused Beijing of having “something to hide” and said it vindicated the Morrison Government’s calls for transparency.
“That’s why the federal government’s always been consistent in calling for a proper, transparent inquiry (on the origins of COVID-19),” he told Today.
“The question has to be asked – if China has nothing to hide here, why they are going to these sort of lengths to hide things?”
It comes as a team of WHO experts prepares to begin its investigation into the origins of the virus.
Western governments, including the US, believe that the body has largely ceded control of the investigation to China, leading to fears of a whitewash.
Separately, a WHO-backed expert panel – formed last July after countries including Australia demanded an independent investigation – on Monday criticised both China and WHO.
The report said that it was “clear (that) public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China” last January and that there was “potential for early signs to have been acted on more rapidly”.
The Trump administration has spent its final days ratcheting up attacks on China over the COVID-19 pandemic, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claiming over the weekend that US intelligence agencies have proof the virus escaped from a lab.
China has strenuously rejected those allegations, with the state-run Global Times newspaper blasting Mr Pompeo as a “lunatic” who has gone “insane”.
The prevailing theory is that the virus originated in bats and jumped to humans at a controversial “wet market” that sold and butchered exotic animals in disgusting conditions.
China, meanwhile, has begun pushing the theory that the virus originated overseas and may have arrived in Wuhan via imported frozen food products from Europe, South America or even Australia.