In news that will shock absolutely no one, a classified assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies has reportedly concluded that China worked to conceal the exact scope of its novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from the rest of the world,
Citing three unnamed U.S. officials, Bloomberg News reports that the assessment — received by the White House last week — showed that the Chinese government's public reporting on positive COVID-19 cases and related deaths since the start of the country's outbreak in late 2019 was “intentionally incomplete.”
Chinese officials only publicly reported roughly 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and cited by Bloomberg News, levels recently eclipsed by the nearly 200,000 cases and 4,000 deaths seen in the United States.
The Bloomberg News report does not offer any sense of China's absolute number of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had previously accused the Chinese government of censoring information regarding its COVID-19 outbreak back in February, arguing that the lack of transparency was putting the rest of the world at risk.
“Censorship. It can have deadly consequences,” Pompeo said at the time. “Had China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge.”
The accusation had sparked a war of words between U.S. and Chinese officials regarding which country bore ultimate responsibility for the spread of COVID-19, an exchange which saw the Chinese government accuse the U.S. Army of deliberately bringing the disease to the Wuhan province where it is thought to have originated.
“China has been updating the U.S. on the coronavirus and its response since Jan. 3,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on March 19. “On Jan. 15 the U.S. State Department notified Americans in China U.S. CDC's warning about the coronavirus. And now blame China for delay? Seriously?”
But on Tuesday, State Department immunologist Deborah Birx stated that China's public reporting had shaped assumptions among the international medical community regarding the nature of COVID-19 and its potential spread around the world — assumptions that now appear fundamentally flawed.
“The medical community made — interpreted the Chinese data as: This was serious, but smaller than anyone expected,” Birx said on Tuesday, per Bloomberg News. “Because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain.”