China Releases Timeline to Back Its Outbreak 'Transparency' Claim, But It’s Full of Holes

Patrick Goodenough | April 7, 2020 | 3:51am EDT
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China’s State Council information office holds a COVID-19 press conference on March 31. (Photo: Xinhua/Xiong Qi)
China’s State Council information office holds a COVID-19 press conference on March 31. (Photo: Xinhua/Xiong Qi)

( – Stung by widespread allegations of its early mishandling of the emerging coronavirus epidemic, the People's Republic of China on Monday published a lengthy timeline giving its version of events, focused on how it “shared information and advanced international cooperation.”

Running more than 20,000 words, the timeline is dominated by entries about President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials speaking to world leaders, along with multiple references to China’s “open, transparent and responsible” handling of the outbreak.

Also featured is the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised China’s efforts.

For example, Xi told the Mongolian president during a late February phone call that, “With an open, transparent and responsible attitude, the Chinese government has actively stepped up international cooperation to fight the outbreak, and China’s efforts have been highly affirmed and recognized by the WHO and the international community.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing in March. (Photo: Xinhua/Ding Haitao)
Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing in March. (Photo: Xinhua/Ding Haitao)

The Chinese timeline is noticeably thin at the beginning.

Its first two entries read:

Late December 2019:  The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in central China’s Hubei Province detected cases of pneumonia of unknown cause

Dec. 30, 2019:  The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued an urgent notification to medical institutions under its jurisdiction, ordering efforts to appropriately treat patients with pneumonia of unknown cause

The Chinese timeline does not include the fact a first case of the mystery illness had been detected as early as Nov. 17, according to leaked Chinese government data reported on by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

It does not include the claim – contained in an academic paper by two dozen Chinese experts – that a patient in Wuhan began experiencing symptoms on Dec. 1.

The Chinese timeline does not include the fact that fluid samples from a Wuhan seafood market deliveryman, sent by hospital staff to a genomics company on Dec. 24, had come back on Dec. 27 with the news that sequencing of the new virus found results similar to the SARS coronavirus which emerged in 2002-3.

Also omitted is the fact that a Hubei doctor, Zhang Jixian, told Chinese health authorities on Dec. 27 that he believed a new coronavirus was responsible for the disease.

Under the International Health Regulations, an instrument of international law revised in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic, national authorities are obliged to inform the WHO “within 24 hours” of any public health event that could have serious and international consequences.

According to the WHO, its China country office was first informed of cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause in Wuhan on Dec. 31.

Also according to the WHO, China reported a total of 44 patients as of Jan. 3.  Yet according to the Chinese government data cited by the South China Morning Post, the number of confirmed cases already stood at 381 on Jan. 1.

Twenty-nine days

The Chinese timeline makes no reference to the fact several doctors in Wuhan who tried to draw attention to the virus were punished for spreading false “rumors” online.

The timeline also gives no explanation for the weeks-long delay between China’s agreement to a WHO request to visit the outbreak location, and the team’s arrival in Wuhan.

Relevant entries in the timeline (lightly edited for brevity) include:

Jan. 25:  China’s National Health Commission replied in a letter to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “welcoming the WHO to send a group of international experts to cooperate with China to strengthen epidemic prevention and control”

Jan. 30:  “China’s NHC notified the U.S. side that American experts are welcomed to join the China-WHO joint mission. The U.S. side responded the same day and expressed their appreciation”

Feb. 3:  A Chinese diplomat in Geneva “called for concerted efforts from the international community to combat the epidemic”

Feb. 8:  “Chinese, U.S. health authorities had another discussion over arrangements regarding the participation of American experts in the China-WHO joint mission”

Feb. 11: A visiting WHO advance team held its first meeting with Chinese counterparts, “discussing and reaching initial agreement on issues including the principle in determining the list of members, priorities of field visits and agenda”

Feb. 16: China-WHO joint team – 25 experts from China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, the United States, and WHO – started a nine-day field visit in China

Feb. 22:  China-WHO joint team arrived in Wuhan

Twenty-nine days passed between Beijing agreement to WHO’s request to visit, and the team’s arrival in Wuhan.

During those 29 days the number of cases of what was later named COVID-19 rose from 1,317 in China and 26 in ten other countries, with a total of 41 deaths; to more than 76,300 cases in China and more than 1,400 in 29 other countries, with a total of 2,359 deaths.

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