Chinese expert admits Wuhan hid coronavirus numbers initially, warns of second wave due to lack of immunity

The expert said that even though China currently has a relatively low number of infections, it still faces a 'big challenge' because most had not been exposed to the coronavirus


                            Chinese expert admits Wuhan hid coronavirus numbers initially, warns of second wave due to lack of immunity
(Getty Images)

A top medical advisor to the Chinese government has admitted that local authorities in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China, had suppressed key details about the magnitude of the initial coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory disease expert and a senior medical adviser to the Chinese government, told CNN that authorities in Wuhan had under-reported cases during the early days of the pandemic. He became suspicious when the number of officially reported cases in Wuhan remained at 41 for over 10 days. “The local authorities, they didn't like to tell the truth at that time. At the very beginning, they kept silent, and then I said probably we have (a larger) number of people being infected. I didn't believe that result, so I (kept) asking and then, you have to give me the real number,” said Dr Zhong, who was part of a team of experts sent to Wuhan to investigate the outbreak on January 18.

Two days later, on January 20, Dr Zhong was told in Beijing that the total number of cases in Wuhan was now 198, with three people killed and 13 medical workers infected. He then proposed to lock Wuhan down to contain the spread of the virus. The central government subsequently imposed lockdown in Wuhan on January 23. Dr Nanshan, however, rejected accusations that China's official statistics remained unreliable even after the central government took control of the country's coronavirus response in late January and Wuhan was completely shut down. He said he believed data published after that “will be correct.” The expert emphasized that the Chinese government had learned lessons from 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) when it covered up "some of the outbreak for two or three months.”

“This time, the central government announced that all the cities, all the government departments, should report the true number of diseases -- so if you do not do that, you will be punished. So, since January 23, I think all the data will be correct,” he added. 

Dr Zhong also said that even though China currently has a relatively low number of infections, it still faces a “big challenge” because most of the population had not been exposed to the coronavirus and was still susceptible to infection. He warned that Chinese authorities should not be complacent, with the danger of a second wave of infections looming large.

“The majority of Chinese at the moment are still susceptible to the Covid-19 infection, because (of) a lack of immunity. We are facing (a) big challenge, it's not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment,” said Dr Zhong. 

According to a medical expert, the majority of Chinese at the moment are still susceptible to the Covid-19 infection, because of a lack of immunity. (Getty Images)

New clusters emerge in China

The warning from Dr Zhong comes even as a resurgence of the new coronavirus has led to quarantining 8,000 people and reintroducing lockdown measures in northeastern China, even as other parts of the country are relaxing restrictions.

After reporting 11 domestically transmitted Covid- cases, Shulan, a city in northeast China's Jilin province, imposed lockdown in local communities and villages. Exits and entrances are being guarded by designated people, leaving only one door for local residents to enter. Only one family member is allowed to purchase daily necessities each day, says a report by Global Times. 

The chain of infection in Shulan started with a 45-year-old female who worked as a laundry worker at a local public security bureau. The virus subsequently spread to her husband, her three sisters and some other family members, according to the local health authority. 

“The local railway company halted nearly a dozen train services till May 31 in and out of Shulan. All public transportation, including buses, suspended services, and no taxi is allowed to leave the city,” says the report. 

Residents of Jilin, the second-largest city in Jilin province, have been mostly barred from leaving the city after a cluster of infections was reported there and in Shulan, according to state news media. Jilin has also banned all outbound buses and tour vehicles from leaving the city. Shenyang, capital of the neighboring province of Liaoning, said last week that anyone who had traveled there from the city of Jilin since April 22 would be quarantined at designated hospitals for 21 days.  Officials in Jilin have traced 686 contacts of domestically-transmitted coronavirus cases for testing and quarantine. Authorities in Liaoning have found more than 1,000 contacts and over 6,400 people at high risk for infection.

On May 17, China reported 7 new cases of confirmed infections (4 imported cases in Inner Mongolia autonomous region and 3 indigenous cases, 2 in Jilin province and 1 in Shanghai municipality), 1 new case of suspected infections (an imported case in Shanghai), and no deaths. As of May 17, the National Health Commission had received reports of 82,954 confirmed cases from across China. According to official figures, so far, 4,634 have died in China in the coronavirus pandemic. 

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