A microbiologist and surgeon from Hong Kong has claimed that Chinese health officials tried to “cover up” the initial cause of the coronavirus outbreak.
Professor Kwok-yung Yuen told BBC TV’s Panorama programme that the authorities in China were slow to react to early reports of the Covid-19 outbreak.
And he even compared Wuhan seafood market to a “crime scene.”
Speaking to Panorama reporter Carrie Gracie he said there may have been a “possible cover-up” by officials in Wuhan when the virus first started to spread.
He told her: “I do suspect that they have been doing some cover-up locally in Wuhan.”
“The local officials who are supposed to immediately relate information have not allowed this to be done as rapidly as it should have,” he added.
In 2002, during the early stages of SARS epidemic the Chinese government was accused of concealing the true number of cases.
There were also claims of silencing doctors and withholding information from the world for four vital months.
But the lessons of SARS were not lost on Beijing, and throughout the Covid-19 crisis China insists it has been “open, transparent and responsible”
Yuen was one of the researchers who identified SARS – as soon as he saw the early reports coming out of Wuhan he pushed for an immediate response from health officials in Hong Kong, saying: “If you don’t make use of every hour, you are in big, big trouble.”
Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, told the BBC: “The Chinese health authorities notified WHO on 31 December in the shortest possible time.”
But World Health organisation reports contradict that, saying the agency spotted reports of the outbreak on the internet and sent an official request to Beijing for information on January 1. China responded two days later.
Carrie Gracie, writing in the Guardian, says “Beijing certainly had a key part of its evidence on human transmission a week earlier than the official version admits.”
Yuen says that China used some of this time to cover up traces of the outbreak’s sources, rather than warning the world, telling Panorama: “When we went to the Wuhan seafood market, of course there was nothing to see because the market was cleaned already.
“So you may say that the crime scene was already disturbed – because the seafood market was cleared we cannot identify the animal host which is giving the virus to humans.”
The total worldwide number of infections stands at over 16 million, with a death toll of at least 648,966.
It’s impossible to estimate how many of this deaths could have been avoided if China had issued an earlier, clearer, warning about the virulence of Covid 19, but the growing number of claims from whistleblowers such as Professor Yuen make it increasingly likely that the US, which has been particularly hard-hit by the virus, will demand answers.
Panorama: China’s Coronavirus Cover-Up is on BBC One, Monday July 27 July, 7.30pm, and then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer