74 Percent of Britons Think China Covered up Initial Coronavirus Outbreak, Poll Shows

A new poll conducted for Newsweek has found that most Britons believe that the Chinese government covered up the initial coronavirus outbreak, and some now want Beijing to pay reparations for the damage caused by the subsequent pandemic.

The U.K. has now recorded more than 268,000 coronavirus infections and more than 37,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Financial Times reported Thursday that the country now has the worst death rate of any nation, ahead of the U.S. which has the highest overall death toll.

An online poll of 1,500 adults aged over 18 who live across the U.K. conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for Newsweek, shows that many Britons consider China at least partly responsible for the disaster.

Seventy-four percent of those surveyed believe that the Chinese government "covered or hid the seriousness of the threat from coronavirus when it first emerged."

The virus originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading worldwide. Local officials have been accused of silencing whistleblower doctors when reports of the sickness first emerged, and later underreporting the number of infections and deaths in the city.

The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing is said to have intentionally concealed the severity and scale of the threat, failing to share information with the international community and downplaying the danger even as officials scrambled to secure the medical supplies needed to respond.

China is still blocking an international probe into the origins and course of the pandemic, amid as-yet unproven allegations made by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology research facility.

To date, most experts believe the virus originated at a wildlife market where it jumped from bats to humans via an intermediary animal.

Sixty-one percent of Britons surveyed in the poll said that China should be held responsible for the pandemic. Of these, 69 percent said Beijing should allow an independent investigation into the outbreak, while 51 percent said China should pay reparations. Sixty-one percent said China should ban the type of wildlife market where COVID-19 is thought to have originated.

The U.K.—like its European neighbours—has been measured in its diplomatic response to the pandemic to date. British leaders have refrained from Trump-style attacks on Beijing, instead focusing on the government's strategy to contain the virus, which itself has been widely criticized and hamstrung by internal Conservative Party politics.

Forty-two percent of Britons surveyed said the U.K. government should have been more aggressive towards China during the crisis, and only 5 percent believed London had been too forceful with Beijing. Thirty percent said Prime Minister Boris Johnson's approach had been about right.

Thirty-six percent said the Trump administration has been too aggressive, though 28 percent believed the president had the correct approach. Fourteen percent believe Trump should have been even more aggressive, while 22 percent said they did not know.

European Union leaders have called on Beijing to allow an international investigation into the virus, though have stopped short of blaming China for the pandemic. Thirty-eight percent of Britons surveyed believe the EU should have been more aggressive, while only 4 percent said the bloc had been too aggressive.

UK, Brits, China, coronavirus, survey, blame
A member of the public wears a protective mask on a train on May 20, 2020 in London, U.K. Alex Davidson/Getty Images/Getty