The new information comes from Yuen Kwok-yung, an infectious disease expert at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Yuen was part of a team of experts, led by top Chinese respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan, dispatched on a fact-finding mission to Wuhan, ground zero for the global pandemic, on January 19.
On Monday, July 27, Yuen revealed in an interview with the BBC that local Chinese authorities were not only slow to respond to the outbreak but that they had also destroyed physical evidence of the outbreak.
“I do suspect that they have been doing some coverup locally at Wuhan. The local officials who are supposed to relay the information immediately have not allowed this to be done as readily as it should,” Yuen said.
Authorities in Wuhan had initially claimed that the coronavirus outbreak had originated in the Huanan seafood market – though studies have since shown that some of the first patients had no link to it.
Talking to the BBC, Yuen recalled his visit to the market in January, saying that “there was nothing to see because the market was clean already.”
“You may say that the crime scene is already disturbed because the supermarket was cleared,” he added. “We cannot identify any host which is giving the virus to humans.”
Yuen went on to say that he suspected that authorities had done some sort of cover-up at Wuhan. He added that local officials who were supposed to relay information about the virus did not do so as readily as they should have.
Since it first broke out, Beijing has actively been trying to control the narrative around the pandemic. In late December, eight doctors were silenced by authorities after they posted on Chinese social media about a new form of pneumonia spreading in Wuhan that would eventually become COVID-19.
Among these doctors was Li Wenliang, who initially sounded the alarm about the virus. After he died in February, Beijing spun the narrative around his death, honoring him as a “martyr” – the highest honor that the Chinese Communist Party can confer on a citizen who dies in the service of China. (Related: Desperate to rewrite coronavirus narrative, Beijing goes on a warpath against whistleblowers… and science.)
Other whistleblowers have not been as lucky. Many remain missing to this day.
Despite China's efforts to silence whistleblowers, Yuen has remained vocal in questioning Beijing's narrative. On March 18, Yuen and fellow HKU microbiologist David Lung co-wrote an op-ed published in the local newspaper Ming Pao. In it, Yuen and Lung questioned claims, including those made by Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijun, that the coronavirus had originated in the United States, stating that these claims were without evidence and shouldn't be spread.
For all its efforts to control the narrative around the virus, China might have actually contained it had they been more transparent about it during its early days, according to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Just think how much better off the world would be – not to mention the people inside of China — if we had been able to hear from the doctors in Wuhan and they’d been allowed to raise the alarm about the outbreak of a new and novel virus,” Pompeo said at a speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California on July 23.
In the same speech, Pompeo offered praise to Chinese dissidents who risked their careers and even lives by speaking up against Beijing.
Pompeo also believes that the rest of the world is well aware of China's action in regards to the coronavirus and that it would “pay a price” for the pandemic.
“Every place I go, every foreign minister that I talk to, they recognize what China has done to the world,” he said in a virtual event organized by the Hill. “I’m very confident that the world will look at China differently and engage with them fundamentally different than they did before this catastrophic disaster.”
Follow Pandemic.news for more on how China is covering up the outbreak within its borders.