Chinas COVID Secrets PBS FRONTLINE Full Documentary HD 2021

[Music] [Music] foreign [Music] [Music] one year ago the chinese government announced a lockdown in the city of wuhan stay calm the virus is crazy we do want to be crazy calm calm down but for at least 54 days before that the virus had been spreading throughout china i have no doubt that the scientists and doctors who are on the front lines knew exactly what they were dealing with to this day the chinese government insists that in the fight against covet 19 it has acted with openness transparency and responsibility and in a timely manner you can't blame china for criminal virus china is a victim not a source of this problem over the past year we've been interviewing doctors scientists experts and public health officials involved in the response and their accounts paint a different picture every day we would go back and we would ask for more information everyone knew it was human to human transmission even a fool would know it's a perfect storm of multiple failures happening at the same time with leaked documents there's been no evidence this is the story of what the chinese government knew the first instinct of the authorities always to cover up my guess is that the order to not do anything unusual came from the very top and what they told the world authorities have reported 27 cases by the time we knew that it was transmissible human to human the cow really was out of the bag that was the shop we had and we lost it the case here of a severe flu-like illness which experts say is a worldwide threat to health the pneumonia time bug first appeared in guangdong province officials there saying the outbreak is under control the world health organization has issued a global alert fire is behind a severe outbreak of pneumonia [Music] the roots of china's response to covet 19 go back almost 20 years to another deadly outbreak [Music] the story does start with sars and it began with the lack of transparency from china in november 2002 an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome or sars began in southern china the virus is thought to have passed from a bat into a civic cat and into humans at a market it then spread quickly through southern china's crowded factory cities doctors identified as something unusual happening reported to the local public health authorities and took weeks and months you know for them to take decisive action china's authoritarian government maintained everything was under control the immediate response of the chinese government was literally to lie and dissemble and that caused total confusion for the rest of the world as this epidemic began to ignite five months into the outbreak a beijing doctor exposed what was really happening he revealed there were many more cases than the government was letting on the central government in beijing now admitted the scope of the problem sars has come to north america a thousand people have been quarantined in hong kong two dead in canada and six cases in europe by this time sars had spread around the world it would ultimately cause almost 800 deaths in china the cover-up shook the country chinese people became very concerned but also angry that the government is not telling them the truth there were stories of kind of people like rising up mistrusting information the damage to reputation of the party states domestically and internationally was very heavy it was felt sars was deadly but its ability to spread was limited within eight months the outbreak was [Music] contained it was widely seen that the delay by china in reporting and actually responding was absolutely the reason why we weren't able to nip it in the bud and so the narrative in the global health world was china did learn the lesson they would be better next time and that they would be much more responsive and transparent [Music] beijing set about making sure that sars could not happen again the following year it began creating what it has claimed is the largest online infectious diseases reporting system in the world run from the center for disease control china's cdc i helped them develop the national cdc the cdc that i first visited was in disrepair that's completely changed and what they did was they created these various programs it was a hundred talents a thousand talents so that people who had been trained in other parts of the world were recruited back to china to contribute to the establishment of new infrastructure for infectious disease surveillance one of those recruits was george gao a virologist at oxford university [Music] he became the head of the china cdc in 2017. [Music] let me tell you how we organize the disease control on public health in china surveillance we have the general centralized data center it's in china cdc i will know with the hours whether or not we have a outbreak you know even in a small village by 2019 gao was promising that the country's new online surveillance system would be able to prevent another outbreak like sars [Music] so they were indeed confident right that they had the capacity uh to handle a well a major disease outbreak should it happen that they would be able to nip the crisis in the bud [Music] on the 1st of december 2019 a man in his 70s fell ill he was admitted to a hospital in wuhan a vast industrial city and the transport hub of central china unbeknownst to anyone at the time within days up to 200 people were likely already infected with the coronavirus they were walking around undetected most likely with mild symptoms or none at all many of the cases would be traced to a sprawling live animal market which supplied the city's restaurants and food [Music] shops [Music] colleagues at the wuhan cdc the wuhan center disease control 2014 took me there really to say look this is look at this place this is the kind of place where emerging microbes may appear and i took lots of photographs because they are quite jarring there were snakes cats raccoon dog and they were sometimes in individual cages on the floor and sometimes stats on top of each other after sars beijing had passed a law requiring markets to maintain sanitary standards but it was widely ignored people will kill animals in front of you there's feces guts blood organs lying around with wild birds coming down and feeding on it you've got thousands of people congregating it's a really good place for a virus to spread from one person to another and get out into the community it's not known whether the market was where the virus first made the leap from animals to humans but by mid-december several people were turning up at nearby hospitals [Music] [Applause] doctors noticed a pattern strange white spots in patients lung scans doctors put turned two together that if you're in a hospital you see one pneumonia patient or even two you may not think anything towards happening but the fact that they were seen in different location locations meant that that cluster meant there was an infectious agent going around [Music] [Music] three weeks after the first illnesses emerged doctors at wuhan central hospital took a sample from a patient's lungs [Music] they sent it to vision medicals a private company more than 500 miles away [Applause] [Music] within 48 hours the company had come up with a short genetic sequence of the virus [Applause] [Music] a technician at the lab later posted an online account of what happened next neurologist wang linfa read the post before it was removed from the internet [Music] the report back on december 26 is to say oh my god these patients samples contain genetic sequence most related back chronovirus the technician then privately told his boss about the coronavirus over the messaging app wechat coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which includes sars and the common cold [Music] the sequence from wuhan hadn't been seen before but it was strikingly similar to sars the person who operated that machine and did analysis basically sent a red light flash to the boss of the company and the boss says this is serious don't send the report out until you're 100 sure and a few hours later basically says i'm 100 sure this is real [Music] the lab informed the doctors at the hospital and the wuhan cdc they also sent the sequence results to the state-run chinese academy of medical sciences in beijing [Music] over the coming days word of a new sars-like virus was starting to spread among officials in wuhan and beijing several more samples were sent to other labs for sequencing [Music] none of these results were initially shared with the international community so the sequence of a pathogen is really important because that is what allows people to figure out how quickly the pathogen is spreading and to be able to create tests to detect the virus is really crucial information for health authorities in other countries to start detecting this virus you know where is it going is it going to go outside of china is it going to become a pandemic is it human to human transmissible of course you don't want to rush out some information that could potentially be false and you know make everyone think that oh this is some other kind of pathogen and somehow misinformed people almost a month after the first cases emerged hospitals in wuhan were receiving dozens of patients with severe pneumonia [Music] rouhan's 11 million people were still going about their lives as normal unwittingly spreading the virus around the city and to the rest of china then a lab in beijing that had been reviewing a sample of the virus sent wuhan central hospital some startling results [Music] this lab had gotten a different result from the previous one rather than a virus similar to sars they said it was sars itself it would turn out the lab had made a mistake but the results quickly started circulating among doctors at wuhan central hospital this was the first time that the information about the possibility of this virus was shared this was the first time there was documentation there was evidence that something is really happening and that's being shared publicly wechat groups are like little discussion circles it could be hundreds of people in one group and it's very very easy for information to spread and it spreads that fire at around 5 30 p.m it reached leewen liang an eye doctor he forwarded it on with a warning don't circulate this information outside the group tell your family and loved ones to take precautions he was talking to a group of fellow doctors from his university when he brought up the problem he wasn't trying to go public and in the ordinary course of events it would have been like a little black mark on on a record somewhere instead he ended up at this kind of crux of of history his message went viral [Music] in wuhan the local health commission ordered the city's hospitals to report any new cases directly to them and barred them from releasing information to the public within 12 minutes the orders were leaked they too were widely shared on the internet news of an outbreak had escaped i guess you could say it's the most wonderful and busiest time of year a lot of people high volume are going to be traveling that night the rumors reached marjorie pollock an epidemiologist with pro-med an organization which sends out alerts on disease outbreaks i checked my email after dinner and i had an email from a colleague in taiwan social media was ripe with lots of chatter going on in chinese of an outbreak and did we know anything about it i was able to monitor the weibo posts and it was just going wild my reaction was we're in trouble it was very much a deja vu of what happened with sars one so put together a report to go out as what we would call an emergency post getting it out as soon as possible [Music] it went out to around 80 000 subscribers worldwide it's already the new year in much of the world and here in new york they're getting ready for the most famous new year's spectacle the ball drop in times square peter dashak head of a new york-based infectious disease research organization contacted marjorie pollock with more news i got hold of her on new year's eve and as the champagne was getting warm we realized something really serious was going on in china we had it from a good source that this was a coronavirus and that it was 20 different to sars so we knew that sales was pretty good at transmitting from person to person we knew it had a 10 mortality rate that's a huge red flag and really knew something was wrong when every single senior person that i was trying to get hold of in china was busy i sent a really long text to george head of the cdc i offered to send a team out there to come out there and do anything to support him and i got the shortest response ever from george which was happy new year but george gao did contact virologist ian lipkin with information about the virus this is the first time lipkin has publicly recounted details of their conversation i was in a restaurant waiting to ring in the new year and i got a call on wechat and it was george cow he'd identified the virus it was a new coronavirus and that it was not highly transmissible well this didn't really resonate with me because i'd heard about many many people who'd been infected i think he was just wrong you know i don't think he was duplicitous i think he was just wrong he should have released some sequences and said this is what we know these are the sequences we have my view is that you get it out that's the way we do it because this is too important to hesitate [Applause] [Music] [Applause] [Music] [Applause] [Music] george gao did not respond to our interview requests he has told chinese state media that the sequences were released as quickly as possible and that he never told the public there was no human to human transmission [Music] news of the possible outbreak had actually spread far beyond wuhan by late december that suddenly there was this increasing kind of pressure because the outside world was looking but that's a dual-head sword in china because on the one hand the outside world looking can create pressure to act the outside world looking can also create pressure to cover up [Music] viral pneumonia has hit central china's huhan city authorities have reported 27 cases in total seven of which are critical the national health commission now instructed wuhan health officials to announce the outbreak the news was aired on state-run tv patients are reported to have worked at a local seafood market but the officials played it down describing it only as a viral pneumonia that was under control they reassured the public that there was no evidence of human to human transmission and closed the market where they maintained many cases had originated the first instinct of the authorities is always to cover up one of the key values of the chinese communist party for the last 40 odd years has been stability [Music] the avoidance of what they see is chaos the dangers of revolution overthrow but pat is also very concerned about the idea that whole populations might freak out and that might result in mass shortages or people being crushed to death trying to feed somewhere that urge to control that belief that the public can't be trusted is also very kind of ingrained the definition of stability keeps getting escalated as the ability of the chinese government to to monitor absolutely everything improves even some of the thoughts and speeches of chinese citizens they are now seen as signs of instability [Music] increasingly even in wechat which is a private platform that kind of you know so-called deviant speech would be punished with administrative detention or suspension of of accounts january 1st the wuhan police dealt with the doctors who'd spread the news of an outbreak on state tv they were labeled rumor mongers and internet users several were given official reprimands by the police the news was widely covered on national television the eye doctor li wen liang whose post had gone viral was called to a police station where he signed a confession [Music] the chinese government has disputed that what happened to lee is evidence they were trying to suppress news of the outbreak they say he was simply being urged not to spread unconfirmed information and that all countries have strict rules on the confirmation of infectious diseases [Music] but the clamp down extended beyond doctors chinese journalists were now subject to specific censorship instructions and key words began to disappear from the internet when i first started seeing the reports on december 31st doctors from inside were describing it as sars and so you know i started searching uhan sars to see what the discussion was online and i couldn't find anything you know you had that standard term that relevant search terms blocked which is not a surprise because the government obviously wants to keep things stable i'm pretty sure they did not want any comparison to sars they wouldn't want a panic to ensue because of that but by now in beijing and wuhan top government officials were confronting evidence that they were dealing with something potentially serious a novel coronavirus so let me tell you what international law requires if the government knows about a novel infection that meets the criteria within the international health regulations and a novel coronavirus by definition meets those criteria of a potential public health emergency of international concern the government is obliged by law to report that to the world health organization within 24 hours so it was reportable the failure to report clearly was a violation of the international health regulations the world health organization first learned about the outbreak not from the chinese government but from social media and the pro-med post on january 1st its incident management team began a series of emergency conference calls i remember sitting on the floor in the living room of my sister's house at three o'clock in the morning on those calls with the aim of you know really understanding the situation we had the assumption initially that this may be something new that it may be a new coronavirus and as a respiratory pathogen for us it wasn't a matter of if you know human to human transmission was happening it was what is the extent of it and where is that happening [Music] wh officials requested more information from china's national health commission it was two days before they heard back what they were told was vague there were 44 cases of viral pneumonia of unknown cause [Music] the country has an obligation to answer who's questions honestly fully and transparently and i don't think that that happened entirely any time you get an emerging disease outbreak it's a little bit of chaos at the beginning and also a little bit of disbelief [Music] but having said that it's hard knowing what happened at tsar is why the who was not informed straight away once you report to who it's open to the world you start to get travel and trade restrictions placed upon you china had the memory that they lost a lot of economic productivity and travel and tourism and trade during sars and so i think china's view was that it it wanted to handle this pretty much and that it was going to it didn't want outside interference the chinese government refused multiple interview requests instead it shared a document called reality check of u.s allegations against china on kovit 19. the document states we have all along been in good communication and cooperation with the who and china has provided timely information to the world in an open transparent and responsible manner the national health commission now had a team of scientists and officials on the ground in wuhan investigating the outbreak labs across the country were secretly racing to map the complete genetic sequence of the new virus one of those labs was run by a renowned virologist in shanghai professor jang young-jin [Music] professor zhang he's a very uh very friendly passionate extraordinarily hardworking scientist i've been working with him since 2012 and we essentially use genomic technology to try to understand virus evolution and diversity just how many viruses are there how big is the total universe of virus at the virus fear virologist eddie holmes and professor zhang were in the middle of a long-term project on respiratory diseases at wuhan central hospital when the outbreak began on the 2nd of january lung samples from infected wuhan patients were sent by high-speed training to zhang's lab at around 2 a.m on the 5th of january a breakthrough jang had obtained the full genetic sequence of the virus i was driving to breakfast and he called me on the car phone his team had worked very hard and so he was very proud obviously the work they put in on that very day he was he was working to try and get information released as soon as possible the rest of the world could see what it was and so that we could get and we could get diagnostics going it was important confirmation that the virus was very similar to sars and therefore likely transmissible between humans zhang's office immediately wrote to the national health commission advising preventative measures in public places jang and holmes wanted to make the sequence public right away but they couldn't there was um an official a memorandum that had gone through saying that he we were not we were not allowed to do this and so he was putting he was put in quite a difficult position two days earlier the national health commission had sent out secret instructions to laboratories forbidding them from publishing their results without authorization and requiring them to destroy or hand over their samples the health commission's orders were later leaked four other chinese labs also obtained the full genetic sequence of the virus they too were forced to sit on their findings i mean the notice says very clearly that you cannot spread or disseminate any information about this pathogen to the outside world and what that effectively did was it silenced individual scientists and laboratories from talking about this outbreak from revealing information about this virus and potentially allowing word of it to leak out to the outside world and alarm people the question then naturally becomes why would you do something like that why would you order people not to talk about this virus and it's difficult to say exactly what the motives were behind that order from all indications from the way they behaved in early january they seem to be really treating this as a slow moving virus [Music] doctors were now dealing with more and more people turning up sick in wuhan's hospitals [Music] health workers have been forbidden from talking to the international media without authorization but one agreed to speak this is the first time a health worker from wohan central hospital has talked to international journalists about what was happening in those early days of the outbreak we are protecting the person's identity and using an actor's voice i began to suspect there was human to human transmission around the 5th or 7th january there were so many people who had a fever the respiratory department became full around the 9th or 10th january i realized this thing had become big it was out of control then we started to panic but on state television a representative of the government team investigating the outbreak maintained it was a viral pneumonia gender [Music] everyone knew it was human to human transmission if a fool would know so why say there is no human transmission this made us very confused very confused and very angry the hospital told us that we were not allowed to speak to anyone they wouldn't even let us wear masks they say they were afraid of causing panic i thought the leaders were stupid around wuhan doctors and nurses began getting sick a sign of human to human transmission some health workers later told chinese media they tried voicing concerns to the authorities but local and provincial officials ignored them i think the main concern is that what if this is the false alarm right and if there's chaos and stability and people panic then they would look bad in the eyes of the central leaders you know that is not good for their personal careers on january 6 city and provincial officials began 12 days of annual political meetings in wuhan [Music] there are indications that wuhan city officials did not want information about this outbreak to really spread because you know they really want things to go as smoothly as possible to make themselves look good there's also could have been an order from the top down where they were saying you know basically get this under control but don't tell anyone because we don't want to alarm anyone it's very possible that there was kind of a systemic failure it's a perfect storm of multiple failures happening at the same time in different parts of the government bureaucracy we asked the local and provincial governments for comment but did not receive a response chinese central government insists it took the most comprehensive rigorous and thorough measures but by the 7th of january xi jinping had issued epidemic response instructions so the details of those instructions have not been made public as the virus continued to spread the world outside wuhan largely remained in the dark about what was going on i reported the first story which was on january 6. the two people i spoke to in uhan who were sick told me oh you know we're fine no one in our family is sick and so i thought oh okay it's probably some you know pneumonia-like illness that's not going to sweep around the world [Music] i also spoke to a couple of experts they also thought that it was not going to be that significant health workers were not getting sick and no one had died at that point i believed that the chinese government wouldn't would not think of covering up the way they did during sars and that if the hospitals were overwhelmed there would be no way to cover that up [Music] i do wonder whether my first report you know conditioned people to think that this was not such a big deal after all [Music] [Music] across china most people were unaware of what was happening in wuhan [Music] zhang hai was making plans to take his 76 year old father zhang life back to the city [Music] foreign checked his father into the people's liberation army hospital in central wuhan to have his broken leg operated on him [Music] [Music] by january 8th it's estimated more than 6 000 people had been infected by the virus the chinese new year was just over two weeks away fifteen million people were expected to travel out of wuhan alone during the holiday one of their top destinations abroad was thailand [Music] publicly the chinese government was still saying that cases were linked to the one on market and there was no evidence of human to human transmission but thai health officials were skeptical china said that there is no evidence that the disease has human to human transmission but we all know very well that for for the pneumonias usually there will be some some human to human transmission so that is what we prepare for so we started screening the passengers from wuhan [Music] bangkok's main airport began temperature checks on all passengers from wuhan not just those who had been to one on market [Music] on january 8 a 61 year old woman from wuhan arrived for a tour of thailand when she take a vietnam scan is more than 38 degrees celsius and then we repeat again and also the temperature is also still increasing when dr rome interviewed the woman he discovered an alarming detail in the beginning we know only the woman might get his suspected sword and then she said oh i not got this my guess not contact with a hunan market at all so that is really the critical information for us that the spreading may be generalized in in gohan thai health officials took a sample from the woman they wanted to be sure it was the same illness as the one spreading in wuhan the sample was sent to an expert on coronaviruses dr lom asked my lab to identify the disease of the unknown pneumonia so this is our huge responsibility she quickly identified four short genetic sequences but it wasn't quite enough all the four sequences were mesh two bats are like corona wireless but i could not say that this is the cause of the disease and at that time we are waiting for the whole genome sequence from china to confirm [Music] officials at the world health organization were also waiting for more information on the virus publicly the who had been echoing china's official position that it was a viral pneumonia but behind closed doors something else was going on the who starts to get concerned because they're starting to hear you know the chinese authorities know more oh they had sequenced the virus they've identified what kind of virus it is but they don't know what's going on and that we know because the associated press obtained some recordings of internal meetings by who officials [Music] the associated press shared some of the leaked recordings with frontline they show that officials were frustrated at china's lack of transparency [Music] this is exactly the same scenario dr mike ryan who was overseeing the response to the emerging outbreak was worried that the w.h.o would be accused of failing to warn the world [Music] uh a really pivotal moment comes around january 8th when you know they hear that the wall street journal is about to report that chinese authorities have identified a novel coronavirus and this is information that the chinese authorities have not told the who the who is now getting critical information from the media not from the chinese government over the next 48 hours mike ryan had a series of meetings with colleagues to discuss the mounting crisis where china can make a huge contribution to the world right now that is the immediate sharing of the genetic sequences and primers with other countries but unless they share that information and knowledge with others it will probably not give them the best benefit and it will certainly mean that other countries are going to have to reinvent the wheel over the coming days there's been no evidence human transhuman transmission is not good enough we need to see the data we need to be able to determine for ourselves the geographic distribution the timeline the epicurve and all of that it's absolutely important at this point [Music] those concerns are not something they ever aired publicly and instead they basically deferred to china they said oh you know china says that there's this number of cases the next day a who representative went on chinese state television it appears that the cases have stopped new cases have stopped after the market was temporarily closed and we can see that there is no clear evidence of sustained human to human transmission the sheer speed of the response in china the quality of the closure of the hospital the the market the extremely rapid investigation shows the increase in capacity that china has has acquired the who never publicly accused china of hiding information or breaking any of the international health regulations we asked them why they didn't take a tougher public line we have public discussion about the information that we have we also have very direct conversations with countries privately which are very strong in the sense of the information that we need but we are at the united nations organization on health and we are we have a diplomacy that we use um because this is really important that we work with all member states we work with everyone everywhere every day we would go back and we would ask for more information and we would receive information every day um was it enough every single day no but i could say that for every country that we've dealt with in every outbreak that we have dealt with [Music] who was caught in a really difficult bind it could have publicly challenged china or and this is what who decided that it would do to actually work with china behind the scenes to try to coax them to cooperate you know time and time again there have been countries that have violated the international health regulations and director generals in succession really never called out a country ultimately the impression that the rest of the world got was just what the chinese authorities wanted which is that everything was under control which of course it wasn't [Music] six days had passed since shanghai virologist zhang yong zhen had obtained the full genetic sequence of the virus by now chinese state media had announced it was a novel coronavirus but zhang was still prohibited from publishing his data authorities confirmed it was a coronavirus at that point it seemed absolutely ridiculous that we couldn't release the data it was untenable that we were sitting on this information and not letting it go out it just seemed wrong [Music] he was very stressed because he was under great pressure he's a chinese citizen he's a very he's a very proud chinese citizen he doesn't want to do things that he thinks will be wrong for his country on the australian morning of january 11th jan and i were talking on telephone and he was on a plane flying between beijing and shanghai i said that we need to release this now it's now or never really have we have to do this and he said okay so he sends me his email with a file of the sequence in [Music] and i contact a colleague in edinburgh professor andrew rambo then he established a website called biological which is used for rapid dissemination of data it's like one o'clock in the morning in the uk and we need to write like some text saying what it is and where it comes from [Music] my hands were kind of i remember shaking i was just pressing the button i could almost hear the hands of the clock ticking so then we posted it on biological and i put a tweet out saying here's the first gmc so that bit was done extremely quickly i just felt the weight of pressure just to get this out there the sequence release was a key moment because it told people right this is the pathogen this is what it looks like it's a real thing here it is and now we can start [Music] the release of the sequence forced beijing's hand [Music] within hours china's cdc and national health commission made public the genetic sequences they'd obtained and shared them with the who the international community was now able to act on january 13th german scientists published a toolkit for a test so other countries could check for cases a chinese tourist in thailand is the first confirmed case of the new pneumonia virus outside china researchers in the uk then quickly did modeling to figure out oh you know if there's these cases that are showing up outside of china how many people are actually infected in wuhan so what they found was pretty alarming it showed that there were probably thousands of people infected in one after the release of the sequence zhang's lab was temporarily shut down for what the authorities called rectification in the chinese government's official account of how it responded there's no mention of zhang's rule they said that it took time to study and understand the virus and that they wasted no time in releasing the sequence to the who [Music] wuhan's hospitals were now treating hundreds of patients with respiratory symptoms the health worker at wuhan central told us the emergency room was filling up every day there were several hundred people with fever arriving at our emergency department hundreds every day i was definitely afraid i realized that this illness was everywhere patients were starting to die around me one by one my colleagues were becoming infected all of us were definitely scared although there were now hundreds of sick patients across wuhan they weren't being logged in the cdc's much touted reporting system the official case count had in fact been revised down to 41. according to leaked documents from the city health commission and wuhan central hospital local and provincial authorities were suppressing the numbers they were only counting cases linked directly to the juanan market and only they not the doctors were authorized to confirm cases at the level of the hospital we could not confirm a diagnosis and i don't know what level could actually confirm the diagnosis so to say there were 41 confirmed cases i don't think it's incorrect but if you are talking about suspected cases i guess that at that time there were already hundreds and hundreds during this period the national health commission scientists on the ground in wuhan were gathering extensive data about the outbreak and preparing a paper on their findings at the very beginning of january the central government had dispatched a team of leading infectious disease experts from the peking university school of medicine it's kind of like the harvard medical school of china as well as from other leading universities and so they arrived in wuhan they began to look at the clinical data that they had gathered up to january 2nd the data covered all 41 official cases hospitalized by january 2nd [Music] it was an alarming picture it turned out only two-thirds of cases were linked to the one on market the first case had no link to any of the others there were clusters of cases within families the national health commission scientists concluded the virus could have acquired the ability for efficient human to human transmission and that there was potential for a pandemic they had been working on this paper since early january and so they would have submitted an internal version of the paper to a senior official in china [Music] the chinese government did not answer our questions about whether anyone had signed off on the paper but the scientists it had appointed ended up sending a draft to the prestigious lancet medical journal in london when i read through that paper i had nothing but fear because the severity of the disease was shocking i mean these patients they were rapidly deteriorating into multi-organ failure admission to intensive care unit a high mortality the virus was triggering this massive inflammatory explosion which was damaging the organs of their bodies and when you see the severity of the illness combined with the signal of the risk of a global pandemic fear horton said he held off publishing the paper while it was getting peer-reviewed in the meantime beijing did not make public its team's findings including that the virus was likely being transmitted from human to human i think that what was happening was that very difficult interface between the message coming from the scientists and the politicians who are trying to manage that message internally for domestic security and externally in terms of its international relations and i think that's where the block took place but i have no doubt that the scientists and doctors who are on the front lines knew exactly what they were dealing with in beijing the government secretly started to ramp up its response xi jinping issued new instructions on the outbreak they were passed down to the country's local and provincial health departments [Music] so the associated press's global investigative team obtained some documents and show is that on january 14th china's top health official maas away he told the country's public health institutions to prepare for a possible pandemic the documents contained warnings that the outbreak was likely to develop into a major public health event china's most severe challenge since sars they were saying things like you know clustered cases means that human to human transmission is possible they were saying things like because of upcoming travel for china's biggest holiday of the year the spring festival means that this virus could be spreading widely train stations and airports around wuhan temperature checks began appearing hospitals across the country were told to start preparing the government did not announce these new emergency measures to the public but it did authorize state media to say that limited human to human transmission could not be ruled out [Music] [Applause] these documents reveal that central authorities were very alarmed about this virus by january 14th but in public again they weren't really raising the alarm they say things like in the run-up to the two big meetings that china has every year political meetings we have to maintain social stability there's a big emphasis on that and that really points to the authorities not wanting to freak people out for political reasons in its official timeline the chinese government says that at the time there was great uncertainty about the new disease and that more research was needed to understand its mode of transmission [Laughter] the who called its first press conference on the outbreak so good morning colleagues um thank you for the opportunity to be here today with you so just to provide a little bit of background about what coronaviruses are and publicly the who had been sticking to the official chinese line that there was no clear evidence of human to human transmission but in front of the media the agency's coronavirus expert appeared to contradict that so so far with the current virus we have limited human to human transmission but what we are preparing for is the possibility that there will be there could be that was my first press conference i've ever done i presented the situation as i understood it and as we understood it from the data and as it relates to the guidance that we want to put out and so when you have a respiratory pathogen um of course there would be human human transmission it's just where is that happening and what is the extent news spread fast that the who had confirmed human to human transmission the first report came up from reuters they sent out a news alert that the who said that there was limited human to human transmission so i quickly sent an email to geneva saying like can you confirm this and started writing the story you know that the who had identified this as a virus that can spread easily among humans and then they said oh they sent me an email and to say oh it was a misunderstanding the preliminary investigations conducted by the authorities have found no clear evidence of human to human transmission there has been no evidence of limited human to human transmission in a statement a who spokesman told us they never intended to suggest that there was definitely human to human transmission happening despite the mounting evidence the spokesman said who scientists were not on the ground so couldn't make that determination officially we rely on the information that is provided to us there's always more information that we need always things were happening very very quickly and we were utilizing the information that we have and we always go back to the countries to gather more information and china was no different i do appreciate that it's early on in the pandemic and there was this you know that's what we call the fog of war people are trying to understand what's happening and you don't want to put out information before you don't really know what's happening but it made a lot of us think me included that you know this wasn't such a big deal after all and so i just left it at that and scrapped the story outbreaks had now begun in other parts of china people were turning up in hospitals in the major cities of beijing shanghai and shenzhen chinese new year was approaching and the country was on the move [Music] what typically happens that in the run-up to the chinese new year close to 300 million migrant workers leave the cities where they worked to return to their hometowns to celebrate the lunar new year with with their parents and loved ones the chinese government had already issued its internal warnings to health officials about a possible pandemic but they did not order a lockdown we don't know why there was this delay i think the chinese government was coming up with a plan of how to deal with the pandemic my favorite speculation i guess is that they made the decisions to hide the news so that the spring festival migration can proceed without any hiccups without any panics there is actually a very decent public health reason if they had announced a lockdown that would have meant that hundreds of millions of migrant workers would have been trapped in the major cities which would have great implications for both public health but also for stability in wuhan life continued as normal there was a college careers event performances and a mass banquet attended by thousands [Music] [Applause] it was unnecessary you know the juan government could have cancelled the banquet reporters talked to community workers and they were afraid and they tried to convince district level officials to cancel the banquet but the district level officials uh would not do it they refused to do it my guess is that the order to not do anything unusual came from the very top you know some very senior level officials in in beijing on january 19th the head of the wuhan cdc was still reassuring the public neither wuhan officials nor the chinese central government have specifically answered for why they were still downplaying the outbreak and allowing these mass gatherings and travel [Music] by january 20th it's estimated that more than 80 000 people in the country were infected on state tv the government finally acknowledged that the virus was spreading human to human [Music] the news was delivered by the revered 83 year old doctor and [Music] to have him go on cctv to disclose this to be the first person in china to say that this is what was going on was jaw-dropping and that was when cases started to skyrocket in uhan and the numbers multiplied tenfold very fast [Music] it was always going to be very difficult to control this virus from day one but by the time we knew that it was transmissible human to human i think the cat was out of the bag it had already spread that was the shot we had and we lost it [Applause] [Music] at 10 am on january 23rd wuhan was put on lockdown the city at the heart of a public health crisis in china is shutting its public transport network flights cancelled trains halted highways blocked by police 11 million residents have been told to stay put cdc director george gao went before the media i'll be here okay stay calm we have the virus there the virus is crazy we do want to be crazy yeah [Music] despite gao's assurances doctors on the front lines were confronting the reality that covet 19 was much more transmissible than sars [Music] hospitals were overwhelmed [Music] by one estimate wuhan central hospital received over 1500 patients on a single day [Music] there were some patients who didn't need to die there was nothing we could do the medical resources were just too tight [Music] it erupted too fast and then there were just too many people infected ventilators without specific drugs even without enough manpower how are we going to save people if you are unarmed on that battlefield how can you kill the enemy i believe that the true history needs to be remembered we need to learn the lessons so that this doesn't happen again at the army hospital in wuhan zhang hai's father zhang life was recovering from his leg operation but he developed a fever [Music] is [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] [Music] the chinese government says fewer than five thousand of its citizens have died from covid19 but many outside experts say the number is likely much higher among the dead eye doctor li wen liang who had first raised the alarm about an outbreak around the world the death toll is over two million and still climbing exactly one year ago today the first covet case in this country was confirmed by next month more than half a million lives could be lost to the virus one person now dying every six minutes january 20th is the dividing line before that the chinese could have done much better after that the rest of the world should be really on high alert and do much better i don't think it's clear right now exactly how history is going to view this pandemic if the chinese authorities had acted earlier would it have made a difference i think that's the key question and i don't think there's an answer to that right now it might have been a case where it was already too late by the time we realized that this virus was spreading but i think what we can say based on what we know right now it's clear that there were mistakes that were made there were clear delays and many people did suffer the consequences the chinese government continues to defend its response to the outbreak [Music] if the great coronavirus pandemic of 2020 teaches us anything it teaches us that we absolutely have to have the kind of you know open sharing among scientists and governments about all information we're all in it together what we need is early warning and work together sheer information transparency now all of these need a culture change and needed the political landscape to change and unfortunately right now we're going the opposite direction i mean kobe 19 is not going to be the last one right [Music] everybody knows that [Music] for more on this and other frontline programs visit our website at pbs.org frontline frontline's china's covet secrets is available on amazon prime video [Music] you

Loading