Chinese State Media Downplays Coronavirus as Outbreak Worsens

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
January 24, 2020Updated: January 27, 2020

As a deadly viral outbreak escalates across China, state-media has sought to downplay the news by highlighting topics relating to Lunar New Year festivities instead.

The novel coronavirus, which originated in central China’s Wuhan City, has spread to every region in China except Tibet. It has also been detected in several countries in Asia, as well as the United States and France.

Wuhan and 12 other cities in the province have been put under lockdown, leaving more than 30 million people fenced in. Meanwhile, hospitals in Wuhan have been inundated with patients and are struggling to cope with handling the crisis.

Despite the deepening crisis, Chinese state-media on Jan. 24 and Jan. 25 led with stories about the Lunar New Year on their websites and print editions, while placing virus-related stories in less prominent positions. The Lunar New Year falls on Saturday.

The muffled media coverage was in line with reticence by the regime’s leaders in directly addressing the crises. Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not mention the outbreak during his Lunar New Year speech in Beijing on Jan. 23.

“Xi Jinping not mentioning the epidemic is evidence that the outbreak is very serious,” Tang Jingyuan, a U.S.-based China affairs commentator told The Epoch Times on Jan. 24.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s [CCP] culture is that officials won’t speak about a serious incident before there’s any positive development,” Tang said. “In other words, CCP officials only talk about achievements.”

Epoch Times Photo
The Xinhua Net website reports the fatal epidemic on the seventh story on the early morning of Jan. 25. (Screenshot)

State-Media’s Muted Coverage

As at 1:00 a.m. local time on Jan. 25, the front page of the website of the regime’s official news agency Xinhua Net listed a virus-related story in seventh position. The top news pieces were on Xi’s activities during the Lunar New Year, and other New Year-related stories.

The thirteenth story listed was about 830 people who had been diagnosed with the virus in China, a number that has since risen to more than 900.

Meanwhile, the CCP’s official newspaper The People’s Daily on its Jan. 24 edition did not feature any news of the Wuhan virus on its front page. Rather, the only piece on the crisis appeared at the bottom-right-hand corner on page 4—the last page of the newspaper.

Epoch Times Photo
The People’s Daily reports Wuhan pneumonia on the right-bottom corner of page 4 of its four pages news on Jan. 24, 2020. (screenshot)

As at 3:30 a.m. local time of Jan. 25, there was no virus-related news on the featured news section of the website of China’s state broadcaster CCTV. The first virus-related news doesn’t appear until later down the page, being a report on an announcement from China’s cabinet-like State Council requiring local governments to report outbreak conditions without delay.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese state-run CCTV doesn’t report the novel coronavirus pneumonia in the featured news on its website on the early morning of Jan. 25. (Screenshot)


During this year’s Spring Festival Gala, an annual show broadcasted by CCTV on the eve of the Lunar New Year, the regime took to using propaganda to address the Wuhan crisis.

On Friday evening’s gala, six CCTV anchors praised Xi, the Party, the lockdown measures, and medical staff in Wuhan during a 7-minute segment titled “The Bridge of Love.”

The segment included footage of nurses and doctors working in the hospital, a patient being transported in a gurney, and patients being treated in the intensive care unit.

One anchor Haixia cited the example of Chinese tennis player defeating Serena Williams at the Australian Open as a model for Chinese people: “We’ll win if we dare to try our best.”

Another anchor ended with a cheer “Go Wuhan,” as other anchors cheered: “Go, China!”