Three Months in Review: The Spread of Coronavirus from Wuhan to the Rest of China and Other Countries
(Minghui.org) The first coronavirus infection was detected in December 2019. The epicenter, Wuhan, was locked down on January 23, 2020, two days before the Chinese New Year, but that did not prevent the virus from spreading to other regions.
As the capital of Hubei Province and a hub of both land and air traffic along the Yangtze River, Wuhan has a registered urban population of 9 million, as well as 5 million temporary residents. About 5 million people managed to flee the city after the lockdown order was issued, said Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang on January 26.
As of March 6, the coronavirus has spread to nearly 100 countries and territories with over 100,000 infections and close to 3,500 deaths around the world.
Since its initial outbreak three months ago, officials and news media controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been downplaying the epidemic. Measures have been taken at every level of government to underreport the number of infections. As of March 6, 2020, officials in China claimed 80,813 cases, including 67,592 in Wuhan alone. The number of deaths in China is reported as 3,073.
As described in this three-month summary report, the actual numbers of infections and deaths are likely to be much higher, as a large number of cases remain unreported during the continued cover-up by the CCP.
Initial Outbreak (December 2019 to January 20, 2020)
“There is evidence that human-to-human transmission has occurred among close contacts since the middle of December 2019,” reported a January 29, 2020 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Titled “Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia,” the article was written by a group of scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC).
But CCDC did not declare the disease transferable from human to human until January 20, 2020, a month after the outbreak began. During that month, Wuhan officials repeatedly told the public that the virus was “controllable and preventable,” and they did not take necessary measures to prevent the virus from spreading.
On December 31, 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued an “Urgent notice on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause” to local medical facilities, warning that some shoppers at Huanan Seafood Market had exhibited pneumonia symptoms. The notice urged each institution to tally their patients with similar symptoms. Wuhan residents thought they were facing a recurrence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from 2003.
On the same day of the notice, medical experts from Beijing arrived in Wuhan and issued three criteria for patients to be considered confirmed cases: a) previous exposure to Huanan Seafood Market, 2) fever, and 3) verification from whole genome sequencing. According to an article on the financial news media Caixin Weekly, such criteria were too strict to identify asymptomatic cases, which led to further spread of the disease.
On January 1, 2020, eight physicians were punished by the Wuhan police for talking with others about the surging epidemic. Police said the disease was under control and would not spread between humans. These eight physicians were charged with “illegal acts of fabricating and spreading rumors and disrupting social order.” One of them, Dr. Li Wenliang from Wuhan Central Hospital, was later infected and died of the virus on February 6, 2020.
Also on January 1, 2020, Huanan Seafood Market was closed for cleaning. The next day, the Wuhan-based People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Naval University of Engineering issued a notice barring external personnel from entering its campus. This notice indicated that the Chinese navy was already aware of the infection in 2019 and had issued a policy (2019-298) to control it. Similarly, the PLA Central Theater General Hospital also had knowledge of the virus situation.
On January 3, 2020, officials in Wuhan reported 44 cases. Although little was known about the source, transmission route, and mutation of the virus, news media in China claimed the disease was “preventable and controllable.” On January 10, Xinhua News Agency interviewed Wang Hailong, a physician who had been involved in the SARS prevention efforts in 2003. Wang said that no deaths, infections by healthcare workers, or human-to-human transmission had been observed. He assured the public that it did not need to worry.
On January 5, 2020, Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (affiliated with Shanghai Fudan University) submitted an internal report to the National Health Commission. The center claimed a coronavirus had been detected in the respiratory tract lavage fluid from a patient with pneumonia symptoms who had links to Huanan Seafood Market. Whole genome sequencing showed the genetic material of the virus as 89.11% homologous to that of SARS, and this new virus was referred to as Wuhan-Hu-1.
On January 8, this virus was determined to be a new coronavirus and was later renamed as 2019-nCoV.
Wang Guangfa, chief surgeon of Peking University First Hospital’s pulmonary and critical care medicine department, announced on January 11 through People’s Daily that the virus was weak in causing disease. He also said the patients and the overall infection situation were “under control.”
On January 14, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) said limited human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus had been observed, mainly within small clusters in families. Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of WHO’s emerging diseases unit, said the agency had given guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection control in case of spread, including by a “super-spreading” event in a health care setting.
Not long after that, however, WHO cited quotes from Chinese officials saying no evidence showed the virus being transmitted between humans. On the morning of January 15, 2020, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said that although no evidence had been found for human-to-human transmission, it could not rule out the possibility of limited transmission between humans.
On January 17, 2020, a report by London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis said there were likely to be “substantially more cases.” The report estimated that there were 1,723 cases as of January 12 in Wuhan.
Although officials already knew in December 2019 that the virus could spread between humans, residents in the Baibuting community of Wuhan were required to attend an annual feast on January 18, 2020. Hosted by the Wuhan government, more than 40,000 families prepared a total of 14,000 dishes to share. Days later, many in the community began to show symptoms of coronavirus infection. The city of Wuhan was locked down five days later on January 23.
A volunteer working at the event revealed that he and some community staff members received insider news that Wuhan was to be locked down, but they were told the feast had to go on. One neighborhood committee staff member said they had heard about the virus in early January. After being notified on January 15 that the disease could spread from person to person, he and others suggested canceling the banquet, but their request was denied.
On January 19, 2020, Chutian Metropolis Daily reported that a large-scale event hosted by the Wuhan Culture and Tourism Bureau would be held the following day with an estimated attendance of 200,000 people.
According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., Chinese officials arrested at least 325 residents between January 22 and 28 alone. Most of them were charged with “spreading rumors,” “creating panic,” or “attempting to disrupt social order.” They were punished with detention, fines, or disciplinary education.
Timeline After the CCP Declared Human-to-Human Transmission
On the evening of January 20, 2020, Zhong Nanshan, head of the National Health Commission's Coronavirus Task Force, said during a press conference that evidence had shown the new coronavirus could definitely spread between people.
On the morning of January 21, 2020, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said 15 medical staff members in the city had been diagnosed with coronavirus infection, with an additional suspected case. Among these 16 cases, one was in critical condition. This news triggered anger from the public for the earlier cover-up of the epidemic by officials.
On the afternoon of January 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that a U.S. citizen in Seattle who had been to Wuhan had been infected. This was the first coronavirus infection case in the U.S.
On January 23, Wuhan was locked down with all modes of public transportation cut off, including buses, trains, ferries, and flights. Later on, 15 cities in Hubei Province were also locked down. Beijing and 12 other provinces and province-level cities also activated the Public Health Emergency Management system. By then, however, the epidemic had spread to over 26 provinces.
On January 24, the eve of Chinese New Year, Chinese leader Xi Jinping made a nationwide speech, and he did not mention the virus outbreak or Wuhan.
On January 25, Eric Feigl-Ding, a public health researcher at Harvard University for 15 years, commented on Twitter, “It is thermonuclear pandemic-level bad... I'm not exaggerating.” He said this virus would be much worse than previous epidemics. Covid-19 was reported to have a rate of infection, R0 (pronounced “R naught”) of 3.8, which means one contagious person will transmit the virus to an average of 3.8 other people. For comparison, the 2009 flu pandemic (also known as swine flu and which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands) had an R0 of 1.48, and the 1918 Spanish flu (responsible for the deaths of 50-100 million) had an R0 of 1.80.
On January 27, 2020, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang acknowledged the delayed communication of the status of the coronavirus and explained that he was not authorized to disclose the information eariler. “The central government was partially responsible for a lack of transparency that has marred the response to the fast-expanding health crisis,” he said.
On January 28, 2020, Beijing stopped some railroad transportation, and Tianjin activated its wartime emergency system.
On January 28, 2020, senior U.S. officials said Beijing had turned down their offer to help fight the epidemic. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Beijing had been denying CDC officials’ access requests to China since January 6.
On January 29, 2020, an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine stated, “There is evidence that human-to-human transmission has occurred among close contacts since the middle of December 2019.” (“Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia”) The authors were from CCDC and Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and they had studied 425 confirmed cases in Wuhan between December 2019 and January 2020.
On January 30, 2020, former Chinese health ministry official Chen Bingzhong told The Epoch Times that the epidemic was out of control and that Wuhan was in a very dangerous situation. He said there were more patients than could be treated. The real number of cases was also much higher than officially reported.
On January 30, 2020, Italy confirmed its first two cases in a press conference by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. They were two Chinese tourists who had recently traveled to Italy.
On January 31, 2020, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and the implementation of temporary measures to protect citizens. He said any U.S. citizen returning to the country who had been in Hubei Province in China during the previous 14 days would be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. In addition, any U.S. citizen returning from other regions of China within the previous 14 days would undergo health screenings at select ports of entry and be subject to up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine.
Moreover, President Trump signed a proclamation temporarily suspending entry into the U.S. of any foreign national who posed a risk of transmitting the virus. This included foreign nationals other than immediate family of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, who had traveled to China in the preceding 14 days.
Also effective February 2, all flights to the U.S. carrying people who had recently been in China were directed to land at one of 7 U.S. airports with public health resources capable of implementing enhanced coronavirus screening procedures. These 7 airports designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Los Angeles International Airport, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Major airlines have canceled flights to and from China. American Airlines suspended flights to mainland China from February 2 to March 27. Delta suspended all U.S. flights to China between February 6 and April 30, while United extended to April 24 its suspension of flights between the U.S. and Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
These decisions were made after the U.S. Department of State increased its travel advisory to the highest level, Level 4, on January 30, 2020: “Do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).”
On February 3, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said during a press conference, “Since January 3, we notified the US of the epidemic and our control measures altogether 30 times.” As discussed previously, some Chinese institutions, such as those in the military and the National Health Commission, already knew about the outbreak at the end of 2019, but the general public had been misinformed of the scale and severity of the epidemic all along.
On February 5, Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, says that the number of cases was “going up all the time.” He estimated that only 10% of all infections in China had been detected at the time.
On February 6, 2020, news outlets reported that numerous countries, including the U.S., U.K., Japan, Australia, and Indonesia, had been evacuating their citizens from China on chartered flights.
On February 6, Li Wenliang, one of the 8 physicians punished for raising awareness of the coronavirus infection, died from the virus. This news became a headline in Weibo, one of the most popular microblogging sites in China with a reach of 540 million. But this news posting was quickly removed from the site.
On February 8, the U.S. Embassy in China said the first U.S. citizen had died of the coronavirus. The patient was 60 years old and died in a hospital in Wuhan.
On February 9, WHO said China had confirmed a total of 40,213 cases and 811 deaths. This surpassed the death toll of the SARS epidemic in 2003. More cases were also found in other countries and regions, including Hong Kong (10 more cases, with a total of 36), Singapore (three cases, with a total of 43), and South Korea (three more cases, with a total of 27). Six more cases were confirmed on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, bringing the total number of cases on the ship to 70, with Japan having 96 cases.
On February 11, China’s State Council urged Chinese residents to go back to work by February 18, except for those in Hubei Province. On that day, the WHO gave the virus the new name COVID-19.
On February 24, Beijing announced the postponement of the National People's Congress (NPC) and National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the two most important political conferences that are usually held on March 5. The order to return to work while simultaneously delaying the political conferences triggered anger among ordinary citizens. “How come my life is worth nothing?” wrote an online commentator.
Number of Cases Underreported
A large amount of evidence indicates that coronavirus cases have been underreported or covered up by CCP officials.
One example is that of a senior center in Jianhua District of Qiqihar City, Heilongjiang Province. In late 2019, 23 of the 48 residents in the center were infected by visitors carrying the coronavirus. These cases were confirmed in mid-February, but they were not included in the reported number of cases.
According to an article published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology by the CCDC, about 104 coronavirus cases had been observed in Wuhan and other areas of Hubei Province before December 31, 2019, but a report from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission on December 31 only had 27 cases.
This discrepancy continued. The above article also reported an increase of 653 cases in China between January 1 and 10, 2020, among which 88.5% occurred in Hubei Province. But a report from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission on January 11 indicated only 41 cases during those days.
According to published and internal reports, at least 49 cases were identified in Shandong Province on January 19, 2020, but only two cases appeared in an official report for that day.
On February 23, 2020, Wuhan entered its second month under lockdown. South Korea confirmed 169 new cases, bringing its total to 602; this rise prompted the country to raise its disease alert to the highest level. On the same day, 57 more cases were identified on the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 691 on the ship.
On February 24, 2020, Wuhan officials declared at 11 a.m. to end the lockdown of the city. Within three hours, however, the notice was withdrawn.
According to information from the Hubei Police Department, as of February 25, 293 police officers and 111 paramilitary police officers were infected with the coronavirus, and four of them had died. Nearly half of these cases, or 47.4%, came from officers in police stations.
By February 26, 2020, the virus had been found on all continents except Antarctica. The number of cases in South Korea, Iran, and Italy increased dramatically.
On February 27, the U.S. CDC updated its criteria to guide evaluation of persons under investigation for COVID-19. The next day, the CDC issued a Health Alert Network (HAN): Update and Interim Guidance on Outbreak of COVID-19.
The number of infections increased sharply in Italy. Beatrice Lorenzin, former Italian health minister, said this was probably caused by infected people who traveled to Italy from China using indirect flights without declaring their original departure point or putting themselves in voluntary quarantine during the virus’ incubation period.
On February 29, 2020, Italy reported 239 new cases and 8 new deaths, increasing its total number of infections to 1,128 and its death toll to 29. The U.S. elevated its travel advisory for Italy to Level 3 (Reconsider travel) with part of Italy listed as Level 4 (Do not travel).
On February 29, 2020, a source reported that the CT Scan department of Qiqihar First Hospital in Heilongjiang Province had over 100 coronavirus infections, including healthcare professionals, but these numbers were not reported to avoid conflicting with officially published numbers.
Da Guo Zhan Yi (How a Big Nation Fights an Epidemic), a book compiled by the CCP’s Publicity Department and State Council Information Office, was published in February 2020, depicting CCP officials as heroes who defeated the coronavirus infection. The book was abruptly removed from bookstores across China on March 1, 2020.
Ordinary Citizens Became Victims of Propaganda
As in other incidents in the past few decades, CCP officials routinely understate disasters and attempt to control public opinion to gain credit for themselves. Each time this happens, however, ordinary citizens become victims and outsiders are misinformed.
Although Wuhan and Hubei officials were aware of the epidemic in early January, they did not take action until January 20 and hurried to launch an epidemic task force on January 26. However, most of the task force’s members represented government agencies responsible for news media control and/or “maintaining stability.” This implied that the task force’s primary function was to control information rather than the spread of the epidemic.
To reduce the number of reported cases, officials have now abandoned Baibuting, where the 40,000-family feast was held. “Many people have been infected with this virus. But the leaders in Wuhan gave us only one testing kit per day per grid, which contains about 4,000 families,” wrote a resident of Baibuting on a blogging site. The post was soon deleted.
While Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said epidemic control efforts were delayed because he was not authorized to act, top CCP leader Xi Jinping said he had given instructions on epidemic control and prevention as early as on January 7.
The National Health Commission and CCDC in Wuhan have also shifted the blame. They published numerous papers in Chinese and international journals stating that the outbreak was known early on but was allowed to spread so widely because of government inaction.
While medical facilities, local governments, and top officials in the central government blamed each other for the epidemic, the real problem came from systematic censorship of information and public opinion by the CCP.
Barron’s, an American magazine on finance and statistics, recently published an article titled “China’s Coronavirus Figures Don’t Add Up.” “The number of cumulative deaths reported is described by a simple mathematical formula to a very high accuracy,” wrote Lisa Beilfuss, “A near-perfect 99.99% of variance is explained by the equation.” Data analysts say such a near-perfect prediction model isn’t likely to occur naturally, and this casts doubt over the reliability of the numbers being reported by China to the WHO.
The Barron's article quoted Melody Goodman, associate professor of biostatistics at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, as saying, “I have never in my years seen an r-squared of 0.99. As a statistician, it makes me question the data.” She said real human data are never perfectly predictive when it comes to something like an epidemic, since there are countless ways that a person could come into contact with the virus. For example, a “really good” r-squared, in terms of public health data, would be 0.7. “Anything like 0.99 would make me think that someone is simulating data. It would mean you already know what is going to happen,” she said.
On February 25, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said to reporters, “Had China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge.” On March 6, he further expressed his frustration in a CNBC interview, saying that China's refusal to share data had put the U.S. “behind the curve” in fighting the epidemic.
Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist for the CCDC, revealed the CCP's decision-making methodology in an interview with the Global Times on January 30. He said that CCP officials need to consider political factors, social stability, and economic issues and that opinions from scientists are only “part of their decision-making basis.” In other words, politics take the highest priority, followed by stability and the economy. Human life, in comparison, appears to have little importance.
Stephen Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist, said in an interview with “Zoom in with Simone Gao,” a weekly investigative reporting program, that the CCP doesn't care how many people have died from the virus and that they are only concerned about maintaining their power. He called for China's internet firewall to come down so that the Chinese citizens can communicate with the rest of the world.