Deadly impact of China’s COVID-19 cover-up
Exclusive: The global coronavirus spread could have been reduced by 95 per cent if China had revealed when it first learned the disease was infectious, according to damning new research to be published this week.
As international fury builds against the Chinese Communist Party's handling of the pandemic and legal challenges mount against the regime, a News Corp Australia investigation shows the true impact of the cover-up.
More than a thousand Australians have now joined a global class action suing China and the lawyer leading it said the whitewash will be central to the suit, which is seeking more than AUD$10 trillion.
"Had they acted immediately, it would have changed the entire spectrum of the world population being affected by this. And most of the studies say between 50 and 95 per cent could have been changed," said Jeremy Alters, head strategist at Berman Law Group.
"It's at least 95 per cent, because had they closed the city when they first learned about the human to human transmission … it would have bought the world somewhere between six and eight extra weeks before it ever got here.
"Six to eight extra weeks in the lifetime in which we've been living for the last three or four months is an eternity."
Research by Britain's University of Southampton shows the spread would have been dramatically reduced if containment measures were in place before Wuhan and three other cities shut down on January 23.
Had containment strategies been implemented at the start of January, when China first hid the fact that the virus was contagious, the spread could have been reduced by 95 per cent, according to the research to be published in Nature in coming days.
Doctors at two hospitals in Wuhan separately reported to the Chinese CDC on December 27 and December 29 that the then-unnamed coronavirus was contagious, but it wasn't until January 20, after weeks of trying to suppress the information, that the Chinese government announced this finding.
If the measures "could have been conducted one week, two weeks, or three weeks earlier in China, cases could have been reduced by 66 per cent, 86 per cent, and 95 per cent, respectively, together with significantly reducing the number of affected areas", says the research, which accords with several other studies.
Lead researcher Professor Andy Tatem said the study also showed that had China not imposed its January 23 quarantine for another month, there "would have been an outbreak of about 70 times bigger than actually happened".
"It's also important to emphasise that this was the most stringent and massive lockdown that any government has ever done. I know there's a lot of focus on the early stages and maybe China could've stopped it," he said.
"But also, it's quite amazing what was actually done in terms of the lessons that are now being learned across the world and the fact that many countries have had far more time, far more information and still failed to stop it."
The preliminary findings into "non pharmaceutical interventions" were first released last month, said Prof Tatem.
The research, which uses anonymous mobile phone tracking data supplied by telcos, has also been expanded globally, with a study to come later of the spread in Europe to be published next month. Another, that would include information on Australia, is slated for later.
Prof Andy could not confirm if Australian data was already being used, saying permissions about access were still being sought by the researchers.
As the global COVID-19 infection toll approached 3 million yesterday there were increasing calls to hold China accountable.
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are among world leaders to demand a detailed probe into the origins of the pandemic.
US intelligence officials are currently investigating whether the new coronavirus came from a high-security Wuhan lab or was naturally transmitted from bats to humans.
"We're looking at it," Mr Trump said this month of reports that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had released the virus.
"A lot of people are looking at it - it seems to make sense."
Although conspiracists argue the virus was man-made, most scientists concur that it was biological in nature.
But this doesn't preclude the possibility the virus was being tested at the lab and accidentally escaped.
China has repeatedly blocked efforts to investigate the virus, from disinfecting the Wuhan seafood market characterised as the inception point before any swabs could be taken, to arresting whistleblowers who tried to warn the world about what was coming.
Beijing has also orchestrated a misinformation campaign that at times has accused the US military of introducing the virus.
According to a new report by the European Union's External Action Service, China and Russia have "targeted conspiracy narratives" to shift the blame for the outbreak.
The EU yesterday denied reports it had bowed to Chinese pressure to water down the disinformation report.
"I absolutely refute and dispute any indications or claims that in our reporting we are bowing to any kind of external pressure," a spokesman said.
He was responding to reports that said an early version of the report referred to China running "a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image".
China has repeatedly rejected calls for an independent investigation into the virus, saying it is "politically motivated".
"We are fighting the virus at the moment, we are concentrating all our efforts on fighting against the virus," top UK Chinese diplomat Chen Wen said this week.
"Why talk about an investigation into this? This will divert not only attention, it will divert resources."
WHO ACCUSED OF BEING CHINA-CENTRIC
THE World Health Organisation is under increasing pressure over its handling of the coronavirus, with accusations it's too China-centric leading to a collapse in support.
Critics say the United Nations body acted too slowly to curb the outbreak and that it mishandled information and health warnings, with some calling for it to be restructured.
The United States, which contributes more of the WHO's AUD$7 billion budget than any other country, has suspended funding pending an investigation.
"They err on the side of China," US President Donald Trump has said.
"They called it wrong. They could have called it months earlier."
Founded in 1948 to serve the world's public health, the WHO has been praised for its role in defeating smallpox and almost eradicating polio.
But experts say changes to the funding of the sprawling bureaucracy and the fact it is run under a "one country, one vote" system hampers its effectiveness.
About 80 per cent of WHO funding comes from voluntary contributions, from countries and from NGOs such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and these donors have control of how the money is spent.
"Most of the donor money is coming from the United States and is allocated for specific purposes," says Professor Jeremy Youde, public health expert at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
"It's actually those donors that have the bulk of the say over how WHO is spending its money."
The 20 per cent of funding that comes from "assessed" payments from its 194 member countries remains under WHO control, and each of those countries wants a say in how it's spent.
"They need to walk a very fine line," Prof Youde said.
"You need to have an organisation that both can address the sorts of health and scientific challenges we have at the same time they understand how to play the diplomatic game."
Originally published as Deadly impact of China's COVID-19 cover-up