China’s truthtellers: The people who shared details of the Covid-19 pandemic that Beijing left out – nation.lk – The Nation Newspaper

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In the year since Covid-19 emerged in China, Beijing has pushed its version of events to a domestic and global audience. But the truth can be found in articles that were archived before censors swept through Chinese-language media.

CNN has constructed an unofficial timeline of the first few months of the pandemic based on reports by citizen journalists and articles posted on GitHub sites — including Terminus 2049.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and State Council Information Office have not responded to requests for comment on accusations that officials delayed warning the Chinese public about Covid-19. Both bodies and the Cyber Security Administration did not reply to requests to explain why news reports from the beginning of the pandemic were censored.

The official record

What the truthtellers revealed

December 18, 2019

No official reports of a novel coronavirus.

December 18, 2019

A 65-year-old deliveryman linked to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan is admitted to Wuhan Central Hospital after developing a fever three days earlier.

Source: Caixin, February 26, 2020

December 24, 2019

No official reports about a novel coronavirus.

December 24, 2019

A private company is asked to run a genomic test on a swab sample from the deliveryman and finds a new coronavirus.

Source: Caixin, February 26, 2020

December 27, 2019

Still no official reports about a novel coronavirus.

Zhang Jixian, a respiratory doctor at Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine in Wuhan, alerts her hospital to four unusual pneumonia cases. Her actions aren’t made public until February, when Chinese state media praises her as the first doctor to report the virus.

December 27, 2019

A 41-year-old man with a fever is transferred to the Wuhan Central Hospital for treatment. He has never been to Huanan Seafood Market.

Source: Caixin, February 26, 2020

December 30, 2019

December 30, 2019

Ai Fen, the head of Wuhan Central Hospital’s emergency department, receives a patient’s test result that reads: “SARS coronavirus.”

Terrified, Fen circles the test report in red and sends a photo of it to doctors in her department. That night, the test result circulates among the city’s doctors on Chinese social media app WeChat.

One of the doctors who shares the news is Li Wenliang, a 33-year-old from the same hospital. He tells friends on WeChat that seven patients from a local seafood market have been diagnosed with a SARS-like illness.

That day, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission tells the city’s medical institutions that a series of patients from a local seafood market have an “unknown pneumonia” but warns them not to release unauthorized information to the public.

Sources: Chinese magazine People, March 10, 2020, Beijing Youth Daily, January 27, 2020

Source:Wuhan Municipal Health Commission

December 31, 2019

Chinese authorities notify the World Health Organization (WHO) about a cluster of pneumonia cases, but do not specify how many are sick, or what kind of virus it might be.

December 31, 2019

Dr. Li is reprimanded by his hospital and the local health commission for spreading reports of the virus.

Source: Caixin article, January 31, 2020.

January 1, 2020

Wuhan authorities shut the Huanan Seafood Market.

In a Weibo post, the Wuhan police say it has dealt with “eight rumormongers” according to the law.

Images taken by a Wuhan resident in December 2019 show animals being sold in the Huanan Seafood Market before it was closed.

Source: Winterson Weibo

Footage from inside the Huanan Seafood Market filmed by a Wuhan resident.

Source: Winterson Weibo

January 2, 2020

January 2, 2020

Dr. Fen is reprimanded by Wuhan Central Hospital for sharing information.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences Wuhan Institute of Virology sequences the virus.

Source: Chinese magazine People, March 10, 2020; Caixin, February 26, 2020

January 3, 2020

January 3, 2020

Dr. Li is told to go to the police station where he’s ordered to sign a letter admitting to rumormongering.

Source: Beijing Youth Daily, January 27, 2020

The letter Li Wenliang signed at the police station.

Source: Li Wenliang

January 5, 2020

January 5, 2020

Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center professor Zhang Yongzhen and his team sequence the virus’ genome, and in a document to the National Health Commission they suggest taking preventative measures at public places.

Source: Caixin, February 26, 2020

The letter from Zhang’s team.

Source: Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center

January 7, 2020

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds a Politburo Standing Committee meeting on how to contain the coronavirus. The meeting in’t made public until it is reported by state media on February 15.

Wuhan holds its annual parliamentary meetings between January 6, 2020 and January 10, 2020. There is no mention of the new virus in official discussion sessions.

Source: Wuhan Radio and TV Station

January 9, 2020

Scientists say a new coronavirus is responsible for the outbreak — the same family of viruses behind SARS and the common cold.

January 11, 2020

China reports the first official coronavirus death.

January 11, 2020

The sequenced genome is posted on open-source site virological.org on behalf of professor Zhang. That allowed scientists to tell which virus test kits were effective.

In the first weeks of January, Dr. Ai keeps quiet, although she warns her husband to avoid busy public places. She tells hospital staff to wear protective gear. When management refuses to let them wear hazmat suits as it would frighten patients, Ai tells them to wear full body protection under their clothes.

On January 11, Dr. Ai learns that a nurse in her emergency room is infected. At the end of a meeting with the hospital’s medical affairs administration, the hospital directs her to change the nurse’s medical report from “two lung infections, viral pneumonia,” to “scattered infections on both lungs.”

Source: Chinese magazine People, March 10, 2020

January 12, 2020

The Chinese government shares the genetic sequence of Covid-19. Authorities maintain there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission, and no healthcare workers have been infected.

January 12, 2020

Dr. Li is admitted to hospital — he is later diagnosed with coronavirus. As more patients arrive at the hospital, Dr. Ai starts to believe the virus is transmitting between humans not from animals, as authorities have said.

Source: Chinese magazine People, March 10, 2020

January 14, 2020

The WHO says there is no clear evidence that the virus spreads human-to-human, citing Chinese officials.

January 17, 2020

The WHO reiterates its statement that there are no reports of medical workers contracting the virus.

January 19, 2020

China’s National Health Commission says that coronavirus remains “preventable and controllable.”

Wuhan CDC director Li Gang says on January 19, 2020 that the “transmissibility of this new coronavirus is not strong” and “the risk of continuous transmission is low.

Source: Changjiang Daily

January 20, 2020

Chinese government-appointed expert Dr. Zhong Nanshan announces on national TV that the virus can transmit from human to human. The virus has already infected more than 300 people, mostly in China, according to official numbers, and spread to more than three countries. China is not yet reporting asymptomatic cases.

President Xi Jinping, in his first public comments on the coronavirus, orders “resolute efforts” to control the outbreak.

Zhong Nanshan speaking on January 20, 2020.

Source: CCTV

January 20, 2020

Terminus 2049 posts its first coronavirus-related article, a 2003 Time magazine interview with Chinese physician Jiang Yanyong, who exposed how Chinese officials had downplayed the spread of SARS.

To Chen Kun, the purpose of reposting that previously censored article was obvious: “We know you covered up the outbreak in 2003, and we believe you will cover up the epidemic this year again.”

January 21, 2020

January 21, 2020

Dr. Ai’s emergency department is swamped. More than 1,500 people arrive that day, three times as many as normal. Of those, 655 have a fever.

Doubts creep in about the accuracy of China’s reported coronavirus case numbers. Scientists at Imperial College London estimate that by January 18, around 4,000 people were likely to have had symptom onset in Wuhan city alone.

Source: Chinese magazine People, March 10, 2020

A nurse shouts at people in a hospital corridor in Wuhan.

Source: Twitter

January 22, 2020

The government’s official tally of coronavirus cases reaches 548.

The WHO publicly acknowledges the presence of human-to-human transmission. It is publicly positive about China’s response.

January 23, 2020

China takes the unprecedented step of putting Wuhan and some neighboring cities into strict lockdown. At the time, China has reported just over 830 coronavirus cases and 25 deaths.

CNN was in Wuhan when the lockdown went into effect on January 23, leaving on one of the last trains out of the city.

Late January and early February, 2020

Skepticism grows over the official narrative. Members of the public begin documenting what they see: overrun hospitals and infections spreading among medics.

Some, like lawyers Chen Qiushi and Zhang Zhan, travel to Wuhan to document what’s happening.

Source: Chen Qiushi YouTube

Source: Chen Qiushi YouTube

Chen arrives in Wuhan on January 24 while Zhang arrives at the start of February. Both post videos documenting the grim reality online, including to YouTube, a platform that can only be accessed in China by a virtual private network.

Source: Zhang Zhan YouTube

Another citizen journalist, Li Zehua, arrives in Wuhan in February and posts videos alleging that the busy crematoriums indicate the death toll is likely higher than the official number.

Wuhan businessman Fang Bin posts a video of corpses piling up outside a hospital.

Source: Fang Bin YouTube

Wuhan writer Fang Fang begins an online journal documenting daily life under lockdown. Two months’ worth of her diary recordings remain preserved on another GitHub site, Lest We Forget Wuhan 2019, and are later turned into a book.

Source: Terminus 2049, Lest We Forget Wuhan 2019

January 24, 2020

January 24, 2020

Dr. Li is admitted to the intensive care unit. From there, in the last days of his life, he conducts an interview with Beijing Youth Daily. It is later censored.

Source: Beijing Youth Daily interview, January 27, 2020

Li Wenliang in an ICU bed

Source: Li Wenliang

February 4, 2020

One of China’s propaganda chiefs announces that more than 300 journalists had been deployed to Wuhan to “publicize how the government makes preventing and controlling the outbreak a top priority.”

Source: CCTV

February 6, 2020

February 6, 2020

Chen Qiushi goes missing. Soon, both Fang Bin and Li Zehua disappear, too.

At night, the news that Dr. Li Wenliang may have died spreads across Chinese social media. State media report that he is dead but delete those tweets after the Wuhan Central Hospital releases a statement saying Li is being resuscitated.

Source: Li Zehua YouTube

February 7, 2020

February 7, 2020

Officials confirm Li’s death. There’s an outpouring of grief and fury online that poses an extraordinary challenge to Beijing. China begins its crackdown on truthtellers.

February 14, 2020

The government says 1,716 health workers have been diagnosed with coronavirus and six have died. At the time, China had reported more than 66,000 cases.

February 14, 2020

February 26, 2020

February 26, 2020

Chinese media outlet Caixin publishes a story, later censored, that reveals the account of Wuhan doctor Zhao Su, who spoke of the deliveryman being admitted to hospital with a fever.

March, 2020

Wuhan’s top party official announces the government will promote “gratitude education” to help citizens thank the Chinese Communist party for its efforts against the virus. This prompts huge backlash, and the Wuhan government later apologizes and retracts it.

March 10, 2020

In a Chinese magazine People interview, Dr. Ai recounts the experiences detailed above.

After Ai’s interview is published in People, China’s censors go into overdrive. The article is deleted, but netizens are faster — they preserve versions of the story in English, emojis and even a version in a video mimicking the Star Wars opening credits.

The interview is still on Terminus 2049.

You know, I just wanted to mention that geoFence has built in fast and accurate updates and that’s the truth!

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