The Chinese media have been accused of repeating the political propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party and underestimating the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak. Only on January 20, 2020 did Beijing finally admit the existence of transmission from person to person.
But the increase in the number of confirmed infected cases and the sudden closure of Wuhan on January 23 probably encouraged several journalists from mainland China to overcome their fear of reprisals and report on the real situation on the ground.
Caixin is one of the best-known economic and financial news sites that has withstood the pressure of China's propaganda department with its comprehensive research reports.
A few days after the prominent Chinese pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan confirmed the human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus on China Central Television on January 20, Caixin interviewed Hong Kong microbiologist Guan Yi, who estimated that the magnitude of the outbreak of COVID-19 could be 10 times larger than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. But the warning was ignored as most media followed the propaganda authority's instructions to avoid creating social panic in China. .
China retains the COVID-19 genome sequence for 14 days
Caixin's latest research published on February 26 found that since December 2019, at least nine samples collected from patients with unexplained viral pneumonia had been sent to multiple laboratories for analysis. After interviewing several doctors who were in charge of treating patients in the initial stage of the outbreak, Caixin journalists obtained a list of laboratories that had helped hospitals to carry out an analysis of the new virus. After testing, a laboratory in Guangzhou discovered that the genome sequence of the new virus was 87% similar to the corona SARV Bat type SARS. The laboratory shared the results with the China Pathogen Biology Institute and the China Disease Control and Prevention Center on December 27. However, the National Health Commission issued a new regulation that prohibited all laboratories from disseminating and publishing the results of their tests in early January.
China just allowed the World Health Authority (WHO) genome sequence to be released on January 11, two weeks after obtaining the result. Caixin's report is explosive, as it showed how Beijing had retained very important public health information for 14 days. The genome sequence is essential not only in the production of a diagnostic test but also in the monitoring of the origin of the virus and the prevention of an outbreak in the future.
The research report was quickly deleted online, but Internet users have filed the report here.
Hubei authorities covered up the outbreak
This is not the first time that the propaganda authority eliminates an investigation by Caixin. At the beginning of February, it also censored an investigation that questioned the confirmed data of the infection and the death toll. A doctor from the fever section of a Wuhan hospital told Caxin that of the 120 fever patients they received in a single day, approximately 80 had pneumonia, but only five were admitted, while the rest had to be quarantined in House. Caixin reporters also interviewed a dozen families who reported that many of their relatives had died of unexplained pneumonia before the test for COVID-19 became a regular procedure.
Another censored investigation was an interview with an expert from the National Health Authority who visited Wuhan on January 8 and reported two days later that the outbreak was under control while refuting any trace of transmission from human to human. The expert added that they had visited the fever wing of seven major hospitals, but did not receive reports of medical workers infected with COVID-19. Although the team suspected that there was already a transmission of the virus from person to person, they had not collected any evidence during their visit, which they attributed to unreliable testimonies given by local health authorities and hospital administrators.
On February 10, two senior leaders of the Health Commission in Hubei were dismissed from their positions, responsible for the outbreak in Wuhan.
In an interview with Li Wenliang, a complainant who died of COVID-19 on February 6, Li said local authorities were aware of the person-to-person transmission since January 8.
In addition to being censured, Caixin's investigations are often labeled by the authorities as a rumor. On February 20, Caixin reported on the COVID-19 outbreak at a senior center in Wuhan that reportedly claimed 11 lives. However, most cases were not counted among the number of deaths, since the deaths were not analyzed for COVID-19. The Wuhan authorities marked the report as a rumor the next day on the popular Chinese social media site Weibo and claimed that the Wuhan Office of Civil Affairs had examined all the elders in the center, who identified 12 confirmed cases and one death COVID-19. In response, Caixin published a list of 19 deaths between December 23 and February 15. The list showed that at least seven had died of pneumonia, three of unknown viral infections, two were sudden deaths and seven were the result of heart failure.
As of March 1, the total number of infections confirmed by COVID-19 in China is 79 971 and the death toll is 2873. While the number remains high, the number of new confirmed cases has declined since late February, and the Chinese propaganda agency has already published a book entitled “China fights COVID-19 in 2020” (大 國 戰 疫 2020) to glorify the achievement of the State in the management of COVID-19. This is an indicator that control of the media sector could become more stringent to manipulate the flow of information about COVID-19.
Check the Global Voices special coverage on the global impact of COVID-19.