Wuhan mayor admits 'withholding' information about outbreak, scientists fear 100,000 have already been infected
The delay in communication has meant more than 5 million people traveled out of the city before it was placed in quarantine
Mayor of Wuhan —the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak —has admitted that his administration withheld information that would have conveyed the seriousness of the situation earlier.
Zhou Xianwang, the mayor of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China where the virus was first detected last month, said his team had not released information about the virus in a "timely" manner, and appeared to pin the blame for the same on the country's central government.
Speaking to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Xianwang, 56, addressed the widespread allegations that he had covered up the truth regarding the pandemic and said his government had needed authorization from above his station before they could make any announcement regarding the virus.
"On one hand, we did not reveal [information] timely," he said. "On the other, we did not use effective information to improve our work to a satisfactory level. Regarding the untimely disclosure, [I] hope everyone can understand. [Coronavirus] is a contagious disease. Contagious diseases have relevant law and information needs to be disclosed according to law."
He went on to reveal the restrictions he and his government had faced that prevented him from revealing the crucial information faster, with the delay meaning that around 5 million residents had left the city before it was placed into lockdown on January 23.
"As a local government, after I receive the information, [I] can only release it after being authorized. [Many people] could not understand this at the time," he said, before stating that he and the Communist Party Secretary were willing to resign from their position if it meant earning the public's forgiveness.
The virus has so far killed 81 people, all in China and infected around 2,800, though reports claim that figure is severely undercooked. Scientists fear that more than 100,000 people have been infected already, with some estimates putting that number closer to 350,000.
The rapid spread of the virus has seen China take drastic measures to contain the epidemic, including a suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan that was quickly followed by a complete lockdown of the city.
That lockdown has since been expanded to 17 cities with around 56 million residents, and the end of the Lunar New Year holiday, China's busiest travel season, has been pushed back to "reduce mass gatherings" and "block the spread of the epidemic."
Despite these measures, the virus has found itself moving across continents, with cases reported in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Nepal, and France.