KEY POINTS

  • Chinese health authorities downplayed the severity of the novel coronavirus during the early weeks
  • Chinese officials initially reported fewer cases that those listed in internal documents
  • China had been battling an influenza outbreak during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic

Leaked coronavirus files from China reveal the country mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic by misleading the public in the pandemic's early days. 

An unnamed source provided over 117 pages of internal documents from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It showed that local health authorities downplayed the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. 

On Feb. 10, Chinese authorities reported 2,478 new coronavirus cases. However, the internal documents showed the country listed a total of 5,918 cases the same day. The figure was never revealed to the public, CNN reported.

The death toll listed in the document also revealed discrepancies. On March 7, Hubei officials reported 2,986 total coronavirus-related deaths. However, the internal report listed a total of 3,456 deaths. 

One of the documents showed that testing was inaccurate at the beginning of the pandemic. On Jan. 10, Chinese health officials reported that the SARS testing kits often gave false negatives. 

“Retrospective testing on the early samples… found that the sample that showed negative using SARS testing kits are mostly positive for the new coronavirus,” the document stated. 

The documents, which were revealed by a whistleblower working in the Chinese health care system, was verified by six experts collaborating with CNN. 

The 117-page document also revealed that China had been battling an influenza outbreak on Dec. 1, the same day authorities reported the first COVID-19 infection in Wuhan. 

The influenza epidemic affected Wuhan and neighboring cities Yichang and Xinjiang. The documents did not appear to show that the influenza spike was linked to the coronavirus outbreak, The Hill reported. 

China has repeatedly defended its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 7, China’s State Council released a white paper that said Beijing published coronavirus-related information “on a regular basis.”

“While making an all-out effort to contain the virus, China has also acted with a keen sense of responsibility to humanity, its people, posterity, and the international community. It has provided information on Covid-19 in a thoroughly professional and efficient way,” the white paper said. “It has released authoritative and detailed information as early as possible on a regular basis, thus effectively responding to public concern and building public consensus.”

As of Tuesday, there are 63.1 million coronavirus cases and 1.4 million deaths worldwide. The United States has reported 13.5 million cases and more than 268,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University Hong Kong is experiencing a spike in cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus Hong Kong is experiencing a spike in cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus Photo: AFP / Anthony WALLACE