Damning new evidence in China COVID cover-up
Some of the most damning evidence of China's official cover-up of the COVID-19 coronavirus was revealed overnight, with the Associated Press reporting that top Chinese officials including President Xi Jinping sat on news of the likely pandemic for six whole days before warning its citizens of the outbreak.
During those critical days, authorities in Wuhan unwittingly held a mass banquet for tens of thousands of residents, allowing the disease to be spread in close quarters.
At the same time, millions more Chinese began their annual Lunar New Year trips home to see family, allowing the coronavirus to make its way across the country and even abroad.
What's worse, while doctors during this six-day period were reportedly told to identify suspected cases of the mystery disease, prepare fever clinics, and wear protective equipment - but not to say anything, with cases to be marked "internal" and "not to be disclosed".
Warnings such as these were ignored by a number of local whistleblowers including Dr Li Wenliang, who would succumb to the disease in February - but not before being condemned by Chinese police and authorities for spreading "false information" about the outbreak.
The cover-up reportedly went straight to the top.
While Chinese president Xi Jinping issued his first warning about the potential pandemic on January 20, as early as January 14 Xi was issuing instructions during a teleconference with health officials on how to deal with the virus - with a memo from the call noting that "clustered cases suggest human to human transmission is possible."
In documents sighted by the AP, officials were ordered to play down the threat and not do anything that might rock the boat, particularly with two important Chinese Communist Party meetings having been scheduled for March.
Experts say that the delay may have meant the difference between the coronavirus being contained and eradicated in and around Wuhan, and its spreading around the world - where it has since resulted in over 125,000 deaths and plunged the world into economic chaos.
Even before top officials understood what they were up against on January 14, doctors and nurses on the ground had begun to notice the disease as early as December.
Many attempted to raise the alarm but were shut down by complicated bureaucratic procedures which required test samples to be sent to Beijing as well as the ever-present threat of punishment for stepping out of line and provoking social unrest.
As a result, even though Chinese state media was carrying reports of a potential new virus as early as late December, no new cases were officially reported from January 5 - a fact which also further calls into question China's optimistically low reported death toll of around 3,300.
The news comes as US president Donald Trump cut funding to the World Health Organisation for its complicity in letting the virus spread and State Department cables revealed concerns that the virus could have escaped from a virus research lab in Wuhan.
Originally published as Damning new evidence in China COVID cover-up