US report: China hid coronavirus severity to hoard supplies

2020-05-04 13:49

US officials believe China covered up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak - and how contagious the disease was - to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it, according to intelligence documents.

Chinese leaders "intentionally concealed the severity" of the pandemic from the world in early January, according to a four-page Department of Homeland Security intelligence report dated 1 May and obtained by The Associated Press news agency.

The revelation comes as the Trump administration has intensified its criticism of China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying on Sunday that that country was responsible for the spread of disease and must be held accountable.

The sharper rhetoric coincides with administration critics saying the government's response to the virus was slow and inadequate. President Donald Trump's political opponents have accused him of lashing out at China, a geopolitical foe but critical US trade partner, in an attempt to deflect criticism at home.

Not classified but marked "for official use only," the DHS analysis states that, while downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, China increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies. It attempted to cover up doing so by "denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data," according to the analysis.

The report also says China held off on informing the World Health Organisation that the coronavirus "was a contagion" for much of January so it could order medical supplies from abroad - and that its imports of face masks and surgical gowns and gloves increased sharply.

Those conclusions are based on the 95-percent probability that China's changes in imports and export behaviour were not within normal range, according to the report.

China informed the WHO of the outbreak on 31 December. It contacted the US Centres for Disease Control on 3 January and publicly identified the pathogen as a novel coronavirus on 8 January.

Chinese officials muzzled doctors who warned about the virus early on and repeatedly downplayed the threat of the outbreak. However, many of the Chinese government's missteps appear to have been due to bureaucratic hurdles, tight controls on information, and officials hesitant to report bad news. There is no public evidence to suggest it was an intentional plot to buy up the world's medical supplies.

In a tweet on Sunday, Trump appeared to blame US intelligence officials for not making clearer sooner just how dangerous a potential coronavirus outbreak could be. The president has been defensive over whether he failed to act after receiving early warnings from intelligence officials and others about the coronavirus and its potential impact.

"Intelligence has just reported to me that I was correct, and that they did NOT bring up the CoronaVirus subject matter until late into January, just prior to my banning China from the US," Trump wrote, without citing specifics. "Also, they only spoke of the Virus in a very non-threatening, or matter of fact, manner."

Trump had previously speculated that China may have unleashed the coronavirus due to some kind of "mistake". His intelligence agencies say they are still examining a notion put forward by the president and aides that the pandemic may have resulted from an accident at a Chinese lab.

Speaking on Sunday on ABC's This Week, Pompeo said he had no reason to believe the virus was deliberately spread. But he added, "Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories."

"These are not the first times that we've had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab," Pompeo said. "And so, while the intelligence community continues to do its work - they should continue to do that, and verify so that we are certain - I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan."

The secretary of state appeared to be referring to previous outbreaks of respiratory viruses, like SARS, which started in China. While the remark may be seen as offensive in China, Pompeo repeated the assertion hours later, via a tweet on Sunday afternoon.

Experts say the virus arose naturally in bats, and make clear that they believe it was not man-made. Many virologists say the chance that the outbreak was caused by a lab accident is very low, although scientists are still working to determine a point at which it may have jumped from animals to humans.

Beijing has repeatedly pushed back on US accusations that the outbreak was China's fault, pointing to many missteps made by American officials in their own fight against the outbreak. China's public announcement on 20 January that the virus was transmissible from person to person left the US nearly two months to prepare for the pandemic, during which time the US government failed to bolster medical supplies and deployed flawed testing kits.

"The US government has ignored the facts, diverted public attention and engaged in buck-passing in an attempt to shirk its responsibility for incompetence in the fight against the epidemic," Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Friday.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  mike pompeo  |  china  |  us  |  coronavirus
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.