A well-known Hong Kong microbiologist is the latest to reveal information on how Beijing initially covered up China’s outbreak of the CCP virus, adding to a pile of evidence about authorities’ mismanagement of the pandemic crisis.
Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, an infectious disease expert at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), was among a team of experts headed by China’s top respiratory specialist Zhong Nanshan dispatched on a fact-finding mission to Wuhan, where the virus first broke out, on Jan. 19.
Now, more than 6 months later, Yuen told the BBC in an interview on July 27 that Chinese local authorities were slow to respond to the outbreak and had destroyed physical evidence about the outbreak.
“I do suspect that they have been doing some coverup locally at Wuhan. The local officials who are supposed to immediately relay the information have not allowed this to be done as readily as it should,” Yuen said.
He recalled his visit to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan in January and said “there was nothing to see because the market was clean already.”
Wuhan authorities initially claimed that the virus likely originated from the market, though studies have since shown that some of Wuhan’s first patients had no link to the market.
He added: “You may say that the crime scene is already disturbed because the supermarket was cleared. We cannot identify any host which is giving the virus to humans.”
Beijing’s initial coverup of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, has been well-documented. In late December, authorities silenced eight doctors, among them ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, after they posted on Chinese social media about a new form of pneumonia that was spreading in the city of Wuhan.
In early July, the World Health Organization backtracked from its initial claim that Beijing reported the virus outbreak late last year to the world health body—instead saying that the agency found out about the outbreak through a media statement on the Wuhan health commission’s website.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California on July 23, commented on how the pandemic could have been contained, had the Chinese regime been transparent about the outbreak.
“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.
This is not the first time that Yuen has openly questioned Beijing’s narratives about the virus outbreak. On March 18, Yuen and fellow microbiologist David Lung, an honorary assistant professor at HKU, co-wrote an online op-ed published in the local newspaper Ming Pao.
The article disputed online claims that the CCP virus originated from the United States. They said these claims were without any evidence and should not be spread.
The op-ed was published less than a week after China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijun accused the United States army of bringing the virus to Wuhan in a Twitter post.
In early June, Yuen and his team published a research paper on The Lancet Microbe, an open-access journal in the Lancet family of scientific journals. They took blood samples from 452 Hong Kong residents, who were among 469 Hongkongers evacuated from central China’s Hubei Province in early March, where Wuhan is located.
The researchers said they found that 17 of the 452 (3.8 percent) were seropositive, meaning that they carried antibodies against COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus.
Using that percentage and the total population in Hubei, 59 million, the researchers estimated that 2.2 million people in Hubei “could have been infected” by early March.
The paper pointed to how Hubei’s health commission reported only 67,802 COVID-19 cases as of March 31.
Yuen’s paper drew an angry response from Chinese hawkish state-run media Global Times. In an article published on June 15, Global Times accused Yuen of “cooperating with the United States to strike down China.”