(Minghui.org) The novel coronavirus has now appeared in over 130 countries and was declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11, 2020. At its epicenter, Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China, the disease has claimed thousands of lives. 

Chinese officials said on March 6 that more than 3,000 healthcare workers in Hubei Province had been infected, 40% in hospitals and 60% in their communities. Almost all of them are regular healthcare workers, not epidemic specialists.

Over 40,000 medical professionals from other provinces were dispatched to Hubei to help treat coronavirus patients. Given the tight control of information by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), however, there is no data on how many of them have been infected. 

One of the key factors contributing to the high number of infections and deaths was the CCP’s continued cover-up of the epidemic. On January 24, 2020, the day after Wuhan was put on lockdown, WHO issued its “Situation Report 4,” announcing that Chinese officials had acknowledged 830 coronavirus cases throughout China at the time. But local medical professionals doubted the accuracy of that number.

Hu Dianbo, a physician from Hubei Aerospace Hospital in Xiaogan City, Hubei Province, revealed in a January 24 online post that he and his fellow physicians estimated there were over 100,000 people infected with the virus in Wuhan. “To cover up the facts, Hubei Province said it has sufficient supplies and has refused foreign aid. The hospitals are like hell and people are running around, just hoping to survive,” he wrote. “I know doing this [writing the post] might get me in trouble. But I don’t care—saving life is more important.”

This report detailed how medical professionals in Wuhan Central Hospital confirmed coronavirus back in December and their attempts to raise awareness went in vain. Among them, Li Wenliang, one of the eight physicians disciplined for exposing the epidemic, died of the virus on February 7, 2020. Since then, three more physicians in the same hospital have also died of the virus.

Outbreak and Initial Cover-up

On December 16, 2019, Wuhan Central Hospital admitted a patient to its Emergency Department with a “mysterious fever.” On December 22, the patient was transferred to the Department of Respiration. Because doctors did not know what caused the “unknown” pneumonia, they sent the patient's sample to a lab in Guangdong Province for Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) on December 24, 2019. The hospital received the result on December 27 and learned that the sequence had 81% homology with SARS, one type of coronavirus.

“All indications are that it is the coronavirus,” one doctor said to Ai Fen, director of the Emergency Department.

On December 27, 2019, another patient was admitted with no underlying health issues but was diagnosed with lung failure. At noon on December 30, 2019, Ai received results from NGS and other tests, which again indicated coronavirus. Circling the word “SARS” on the report, she shared screenshots of the report with a classmate from her medical school. It was then circulated among doctors in Wuhan, including ophthalmologist Li Wenliang.

“That night Ai said she received a message from her hospital, saying information about this mysterious disease should not be arbitrarily released in order to avoid causing panic,” reported The Guardian on March 11, 2020, in an article titled “Coronavirus: Wuhan doctor speaks out against authorities.”

The Guardian article also cited Ai's interview with the Chinese magazine Renwu (People). On January 1, 2020, Ai was summoned to the hospital’s disciplinary inspection committee, where she was severely reprimanded for “spreading rumours” and “harming stability.” Shortly after its publication, this interview was removed from the magazine as well as the entire Chinese Internet, according to The Guardian

Restricting Information at All Levels

According to a document obtained by Caixin magazine, which was confirmed by numerous doctors in Wuhan Central Hospital, four people associated with Huanan Seafood Market were admitted to the hospital on December 29, 2019. CT scans and blood tests indicated viral pneumonia.

The hospital's Public Health Office filed 14 cases of “unknown” pneumonia between January 8 and 10: nine cases were detected on January 8, four cases on January 9, and one case on January 10. On January 9, the Jianghan District CDC conducted an epidemiological analysis and collected samples.

On January 11, 2020, the Hubei National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Commission of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) were held in Wuhan. The coronavirus reporting process was changed after the meetings, reported Caixin. When Wuhan Central Hospital reported another case on January 12, it was dismissed by the Jianghan District CDC. 

On January 12, 2020, an officer surnamed Xu from the Hubei Health Commission said that any reports on the epidemic first had to be approved by both municipal and provincial officials.

On January 13, 2020, Wang Wenyong from the Jianghan District CDC contacted Wuhan Central Hospital with instructions to categorize patients with “unknown” pneumonia as suffering from other illnesses.

It was not until January 16 that the Wuhan City CDC dispatched staff to local hospitals to collect samples from suspected coronavirus patients. By then, the number of “unknown” pneumonia patients had increased to 48. According to daily reports from the Wuhan Health Commission, however, no new cases were identified in Wuhan between January 12 and 17.

Systematic Cover-up

After Dr. Li Wenliang received a screenshot from Ai Fen on December 30, he shared it with more medical professionals. At 1:30 a.m. on December 31, he was summoned by hospital officers to explain himself to the Wuhan Health Commission. At work that day, he was forced to write a self-criticism statement.

On January 1, officials disciplined Dr. Li and seven other doctors for “spreading rumors.” According to information obtained by Caixin magazine, the Hubei Health Commission notified gene sequencing companies that day not to test additional patient samples and to destroy the patient samples they’d already received. 

On January 3, Wuhan Central Hospital officials ordered all staff members to refrain from disclosing any information related to the disease, either through texts, pictures, or in conversation. That same day, Dr. Li was reprimanded by the police.

Although officials from the National Health Commission arrived in Wuhan on December 31, 2019, the public was not notified of the epidemic until January 20, 2020.

Disease Out of Control

Doctors in the Wuhan Third Hospital said one elderly woman who was admitted on January 3 later infected her three daughters, two doctors, five nurses, and two other patients in the same ward. The staff submitted her case and samples to authorities on January 9. But no one came to investigate and the woman later died.

Hospitals across Wuhan were overwhelmed by the number of patients. But the Wuhan Health Commission insisted that only those who had been exposed to the Huanan Seafood Market were allowed to be tested for coronavirus.

Li Wenliang had fever on January 11, followed by lung issues. By January 16, 26 infection cases of healthcare wokers were identified in Wuhan Central Hospital. “We have not observed human-to-human transmission,” a hospital official declared that day. “This disease is preventable and treatable.”

Li died on February 7 at the age of 34. Jiang Xueqing, head of thyroid and breast surgery, died from the disease on March 1. Two more deaths followed: another ophthalmologist, Mei Zhongming, on March 3 and eye disease specialist Zhu Heping on March 9.

Although Ai’s interview was deleted from Renwu (People)’s website, its social media, and other internet sites in China, netizens were able to preserve the text and propagate it overseas.

“In the interview, Ai described moments that she will never forget: an elderly man staring blankly at a doctor handing him his 32-year-old son’s death certificate or a father who was too sick to get out of the car outside of the hospital. By the time she walked to the car, he had died,” reported The Guardian

“As a clinician, when I discover a very important virus, how could I not tell other doctors… I did what a doctor, what any normal human being, would do. If the public had been alerted of the virus since January 1, then there would not be so many tragedies,” quoted Business Insider from Ai in an article on March 12 titled “A Wuhan doctor says Chinese officials silenced her coronavirus warnings in December, costing thousands their lives.”