China delayed the release of coronavirus data that could have saved lives for two weeks, a leaked WHO report has claimed. 

The news comes after months of speculation about attempts by the country’s regime to cover up the extent of the outbreak in the beginning.

The WHO publicly praised China’s cooperation at the time, but the plaudits were reportedly only part of an attempt to abstract more information from the government.

A report compiled by the World Health Organisation describes how three government labs succeeded in sequencing the virus’s genome over a week before it was published on January 11, the Associated Press reported.

China president Xi Jinping
BEIJING, CHINA – JANUARY 28: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization, at the Great Hall of the People, on January 28, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Naohiko Hatta – Pool/Getty Images)

Sequencing was an essential step towards understanding the behaviour of the virus and developing a vaccine, and was first accomplished by the Wuhan Institute of Virology on January 2.

Interviews and internal documents reportedly suggested that the delay releasing the data was caused by tight controls on information as well as competition within the Chinese healthcare system.

Even after the data had been released, China reportedly delayed for another two weeks as the WHO tried to obtain from them detailed data on patients and the number of coronavirus infections.

Maria Van Kerkhove, a US epidemiologist who is now the WHO’s technical lead in the fight against coronavirus, said in one meeting: “We’re going on very minimal information.

“It’s clearly not enough for you to do proper planning.”

‘LIVES COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED’

Speaking to the Associated Press, Ali Mokdad, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said it was “obvious that we could have saved more lives” if swifter action had been taken.

The WHO publicly praised China’s cooperation at the time, but the plaudits were reportedly only part of an attempt to abstract more information from the government.

In another meeting, Dr Gauden Galea, the WHO’s most senior official in China, said: “We’re currently at the stage where yes, they’re giving it to us 15 minutes before it appears on [state media].”

In a speech at the Wealth Health Assembly last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping claimed China had always provided information to the WHO “in a most timely fashion”.

He also pledged $2billion over the next two years to help fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Today’s report comes after officials in Wuhan, where the outbreak began late last year, said that no new cases of the virus had been found after a round of testing that reached 9.9million of the city’s 11million people.

It also follows earlier reports that China threatened the WHO into delaying warnings about Covid-19 while it stockpiled medical supplies.

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