Apr 15, 2020 - Health

Chinese officials lost 6 key days in issuing public coronavirus warning

Chinese President Xi Jinping talking to scientists.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with scientists in Beijing in March. Photo: Yan Yan/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Chinese government failed to warn the public for days about the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan after officials secretly concluded on Jan. 14 that they likely were facing a pandemic, according to documents reviewed by the AP.

Why it matters: Chinese President Xi Jinping finally warned the public on Jan. 20, but millions of people had already begun traveling across the country to attend Lunar New Year celebrations.

  • It took the first case outside China, in Thailand on Jan. 13, to galvanize officials in Beijing to begin to launch a nationwide effort to distribute test kits, ease the criteria for confirming cases and order health officials to screen patients.
  • A Jan. 14 memo recognized that "clustered cases suggest that human-to-human transmission is possible."
  • The following six days until Xi's public warning came on top of an almost two-week period in which China's Center for Disease Control did not register any cases from local officials — even though hundreds of patients were appearing in hospitals across the country.

What they're saying: "This is tremendous," Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at UCLA, told the AP. "If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system."

  • "Allegations of a cover-up or lack of transparency in China are groundless," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press conference last week.

Go deeper: U.S.-China tensions hit a dangerous new high

Go deeper