China State Media Brushes Off 'Flimsy' CNN Leak About Wuhan Outbreak

Chinese state media has responded to CNN's "Wuhan files" leak by calling its findings "extremely flimsy" and its questions "obsolete."

On Tuesday, the news network published its review of 117 pages of documents it claimed were leaked from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The files, said to have been provided by a whistleblower working in China's healthcare system, showed health authorities in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province in central China, had repeatedly under-reported the number of patients who had been infected by or died of COVID-19, CNN said.

The internal leak, which reportedly spans from October 2019 to April 2020, showed Chinese officials had mishandled the pandemic in the early stages of the outbreak, including giving the international community—among them possibly President Donald Trump—a false sense of calm by disclosing figures which were at times less than half the real tally.

The report blames a "pattern of institutional failings" and China's flawed accounting system for the country's apparent downplaying of the severity of the disease in the early weeks, despite admitting it was unclear whether the central government in Beijing was involved in the decision-making process at the time.

CNN called the documents the "most significant leak from inside China since the beginning of the pandemic." While they showed inconsistencies between internal discussions in Wuhan and public disclosures to the likes of the World Health Organization, the files provided "no evidence of a deliberate attempt to obfuscate findings," the network said.

Further, the the Wuhan files showed how the provincial health authority struggled with testing and diagnosis when faced with the novel coronavirus. The leak made no mention of a possible laboratory origin for the disease either, the report added.

Following the release of the CNN report, China's strictly controlled state media outlets rejected the notion that Chinese health officials might have been attempting to conceal the true number of infected patients in February.

Testing deficiencies in the early weeks of the epidemic, which China later overcame, were already a matter of public record, said state-owned tabloid Global Times on Tuesday.

It called CNN's inquiry into reporting inconsistencies, and concerns about who knew what and when, "obsolete questions."

The hawkish government newspaper, which operates under the auspices of Communist Party publication People's Daily, said Hubei Province modified its counting methodology in February, while Wuhan revised its COVID-19 death toll in April.

The city widely believed to be the source of the pandemic added 1,290 deaths which it said were missed in the early days of the outbreak, bringing the total number in Wuhan at the time to 3,869—an increase of over 30 percent.

The decision on April 17 showed Beijing's determination to be transparent with the facts, Global Times argued, calling the exposé an attempt to "smear" China's efforts in managing the virus.

In an editorial published on its Chinese website the day after the CNN report, the party paper suggested American media outlets were chastising Beijing for admitting it could have done better.

CGTN, the rebranded international edition of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, described the U.S. network's report as "extremely flimsy."

In an article penned by a Moscow-based contributor on Wednesday, the Chinese news channel said claims made in the report would remain unsubstantiated for as long as CNN chose to keep the documents from being scrutinized by the public.

The author also calls into question the network's choice to publish the report in the month of December, a year on from Wuhan authorities reporting the first cluster of pneumonia of unknown origin.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, commentators have accused CNN of holding the report until after the election in order to dampen President Trump's re-election prospects. Trump has been vocal about China's alleged "lies" surrounding COVID-19, but has also claimed, without evidence, that the virus was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan.

Last month, the WHO said it was still waiting to be allowed into Wuhan to investigate the origins of the outbreak. A team had been sent to China in August but concluded their visit without a trip to the central Chinese city of 11 million inhabitants.

"We fully expect and have reassurances from our Chinese government colleagues that the trip to the field... will be facilitated, and as soon as possible," WHO health emergencies director Michael Ryan said.

So the international community could be "reassured about the quality of the science," WHO experts needed to be given access, Ryan added.

Global Times said China has been calling for "joint efforts" by the international community to trace the origin of COVID-19. Beijing, however, has been punishing Australia and its prime minister, Scott Morrison, since May after he called on the United Nations health body to launch an independent inquiry into the source of the disease.

China had reported 86,551 coronavirus cases and 4,634 deaths as of Wednesday. In comparison, the United States had 13.8 million recorded cases and over 271,000 deaths.

There are now more than 64 million COVID-19 cases worldwide.

According to an October study published in the medical journal The Lancet, strict public health measures undertaken in China between January 29 and February 29 may have prevented an additional 1.4 million infections and some 56,000 deaths.

Wuhan China COVID-19
File photo: A nurse in Wuhan, Hubei, China, prepares equipment to treat COVID-19 patients in intensive care. STR/AFP via Getty Images