China’s state media reacted to the leak in CNN’s “Wuhan files” by describing the results as “extremely flimsy” and the questions as “outdated.
Tuesday, the news station released its review of 117 pages of documents it claimed leaked from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The files, which were allegedly provided by an informant working in the Chinese health system, showed that health authorities in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in central China, had repeatedly understated the number of patients infected with or dying of COVID-19, CNN said.
The internal leak, which reportedly extended from October 2019 to April 2020, showed that Chinese officials had mishandled the pandemic in the early stages of the outbreak, giving the international community – including possibly President Donald Trump – a false sense of calm by revealing numbers that at times were less than half the actual numbers.
The report blames a “pattern of institutional failure” and China’s flawed accounting system for the fact that the country apparently played down the severity of the disease in the first few weeks, although it was admittedly unclear whether the central government in Beijing was involved in the decision-making process at the time.
CNN described the documents as “the most significant leak from inside China since the beginning of the pandemic”. While they showed inconsistencies between internal discussions in Wuhan and public revelations to the World Health Organization, the documents contained “no evidence of a deliberate attempt to conceal the results,” the network said.
In addition, the files from Wuhan showed how the province’s health authority struggled with testing and diagnosis in the face of the novel coronavirus. The leak also did not give any indication of a possible laboratory origin of the disease, the report added.
Following the release of the CNN report, China’s tightly controlled state media rejected the idea that Chinese health authorities may have tried to hide the true number of infected patients in February.
Test deficiencies in the first weeks of the epidemic, which China later managed to overcome, were already publicly known, the state-run tabloid Global Times said on Tuesday.
It called the CNN investigation into reporting inconsistencies and concerns about who knew what and when “outdated questions.
The militant government newspaper, which operates under the auspices of the People’s Daily, published by the Communist Party, said Hubei province changed its counting system in February, while Wuhan revised the COVID-19 death toll in April.
The city, which is widely believed to be the source of the pandemic, added 1,290 deaths reportedly missed in the first days of the outbreak, bringing the total number in Wuhan to 3,869 at that time – an increase of over 30 percent.
The April 17 decision shows Beijing’s determination to be transparent with the facts, the Global Times argued, describing the exposé as an attempt to “slander” China’s efforts in dealing with the virus.
In an editorial published on its Chinese website the day after the CNN report, the party newspaper suspected that American media were castigating Beijing because it admitted that it could have acted better.
CGTN, the renamed international edition of the Chinese state television channel CCTV, described the U.S. network’s report as “extremely flimsy.
In an article written by a Moscow-based editor on Wednesday, the Chinese news channel said that the allegations in the report would remain unfounded as long as CNN chose not to have the documents examined by the public.
The author also questions the station’s decision to release the report in December, a year after the first pneumonia of unknown origin was reported by the authorities in Wuhan.
Meanwhile, commentators in the United States have accused CNN of withholding the report until after the election to dampen the prospects of President Trump’s re-election. Trump spoke out loudly about China’s alleged “lies” about COVID-19, but also claimed to have no evidence that the virus was manufactured in a laboratory in Wuhan.
Last month, the WHO declared that it was still waiting to enter Wuhan to investigate the causes of the outbreak. A team had been sent to China in August, but completed its visit without travelling to the central Chinese city of 11 million people.
“We expect and have the assurance from our Chinese government colleagues that the trip will be completed locally. will be facilitated as soon as possible,” said Michael Ryan, WHO Director for Health Emergencies.
To “reassure the international community about the quality of science”, WHO experts must be given access, Ryan added.
The Global Times said China had called for “joint efforts” by the international community to trace the origin of COVID-19. However, Beijing has been punishing Australia and its Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, since May, after he called on the United Nations health agency to launch an independent investigation into the source of the disease.
China had reported 86,551 cases of coronavirus and 4,634 deaths by Wednesday. In comparison, there were 13.8 million registered cases and over 271,000 deaths in the United States.
There are now more than 64 million COVID-19 cases worldwide.
According to a study published in The Lancet medical journal in October, stringent public health measures taken in China between January 29 and February 29 may have prevented another 1.4 million infections and about 56,000 deaths.