China 'Intentionally Concealed Severity' of Coronavirus Outbreak to Hoard Masks, Other Supplies, DHS Report Says

United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials accused China of hiding the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the early stages to hoard medical supplies in a new four-page intelligence report.

The report, dated May 1 and obtained by The Associated Press, said Chinese officials "intentionally concealed the severity" of COVID-19 in early January so they could organize sufficient shipments of medical supplies to help their citizens respond effectively to the pandemic. The document revealed that Beijing increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies during a period in January when they were also downplaying the severity of the novel disease. The analysis was deemed "for official use only" but was not classified.

The DHS report also accused Chinese leaders of failing to notify the World Health Organization (WHO) of the virus' contagion status throughout most of January. They did so to allow time for the increased order of medical supplies such as face masks and surgical gowns to arrive from overseas, the analysis alleged. According to the document, it was highly probable—95 percent—that Beijing's increases in medical imports and decreases in medical exports did not sit within the normal range.

When reached by Newsweek, the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the U.S. called the report just another "groundless accusation."

Beijing imported 2.5 billion pieces of epidemic personal protective equipment (PPE)—which included more than two billion masks—during a six-week period starting mid-January, according to Chinese government data. The orders came after Chinese consulates worldwide urgently called for safety supplies to battle the coronavirus outbreak. When the pandemic began severely threatening the rest of the world weeks later, countries that had shipped PPE to China were left scrambling to gather enough supplies for their own fight with the novel disease.

The DHS analysis comes as President Donald Trump and U.S. officials have intensified their criticisms of China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei in December 2019. The Trump administration believes Beijing's response was slow and inadequate, particularly in the early stages before it then spread around the world, killing 248,000 globally as of Sunday.

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US President Donald Trump (L) stands next to China's President Xi Jinping during a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017. Nicolas Asfouri/Getty

Trump on Thursday said he's seen evidence that gives him a high degree of confidence that the coronavirus originated from a lab in Wuhan. His assertion came hours after domestic intelligence officials confirmed they were exploring the possibility that the novel disease accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, confirming Newsweek's previous reporting on the matter.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed the president's remarks on Sunday morning, telling ABC News that there's "enormous evidence" that COVID-19 originated from a lab. He also said evidence supports their allegation that the Chinese government went to great lengths to purposefully cover up the virus' severity.

"China has a history of infecting the world," Pompeo said, as well as maintaining "substandard" laboratories.

"We can confirm that the Chinese Communist Party did all that it could to make sure that the world didn't learn in a timely fashion about what was taking place," the secretary of state added. "We've seen the fact that they kicked the journalists out. We saw the fact that those who were trying to report on this, medical professionals inside of China, were silenced. They shut down reporting."