Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"In Depth: How Early Signs of a SARS-Like Virus Were Spotted, Spread, and Throttled"

I know, we usually go to Caixin for business news but in this case, well, they had the story and I missed it.
From Caixin Global, February 29, 09:19 PM:

By Gao Yu, Peng Yanfeng, Yang Rui, Feng Yuding, Ma Danmeng, Flynn Murphy, Han Wei and Timmy Shen
The new coronavirus that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives and spread to almost 50 countries was sequenced in Chinese labs — and found to be similar to SARS — weeks before officials publicly identified it as the cause of a mysterious viral pneumonia cluster in Wuhan, a Caixin investigation has found. 

Test results from multiple labs in December suggested there was an outbreak of a new virus. However, the results failed to trigger a response that could have prepared the public, despite being fed into an infectious disease control system that was designed to alert China’s top health officials about outbreaks.

The revelations show how health officials missed early opportunities to control the virus in the initial stages of the outbreak, as questions mount about who knew what and when, and whether these actions helped the disease to spread.

As early as Dec. 27, a Guangzhou-based genomics company had sequenced most of the virus from fluid samples from the lung of a 65-year old deliveryman who worked at the seafood market where many of the first cases emerged. The results showed an alarming similarity to the deadly SARS coronavirus that killed nearly 800 people between 2002 and 2003.

Around that time, local doctors sent at least eight other patient samples from hospitals around Wuhan to multiple Chinese genomics companies, including industry heavyweight BGI, as they worked to determine what was behind a growing number of cases of unexplained respiratory disease. The results all pointed to a dangerous SARS-like virus.

That was days before China notified the World Health Organization (WHO) on Dec. 31 about the emergence of an unidentified infectious disease, two weeks before it shared the virus’s genome sequence with the world, and crucially, more than three weeks before Chinese authorities confirmed publicly that the virus was spreading between people.

Concerns about the new disease were initially kept within a small group of medical workers, researchers and officials. On Dec. 30, Dr. Li Wenliang was one of several in Wuhan who sounded the first alarms and released initial evidence online. Li, who was punished for releasing the information, would perish from the disease five weeks later, after contracting it from a patient.

On Jan. 1, after several batches of genome sequence results had been returned to hospitals and submitted to health authorities, an employee of one genomics company received a phone call from an official at the Hubei Provincial Health Commission, ordering the company to stop testing samples from Wuhan related to the new disease and destroy all existing samples. The employee spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were told to immediately cease releasing test results and information about the tests, and report any future results to authorities.

Then on Jan. 3, China’s National Health Commission (NHC), the nation’s top health authority, ordered institutions not to publish any information related to the unknown disease, and ordered labs to transfer any samples they had to designated testing institutions, or to destroy them. The order, which Caixin has seen, did not specify any designated testing institutions.

It was Jan. 9 when Chinese authorities finally announced that a novel coronavirus was behind Wuhan’s viral pneumonia outbreak. Even then, the transmissibility of the virus was downplayed, leaving the public unaware of the imminent danger.

Finally, on Jan. 20, Zhong Nanshan, a leading authority on respiratory health who came to national attention in his role fighting SARS, confirmed in a TV interview that the disease was spreading from person-to-person.

Two days later, Wuhan, a city of 11 million, was placed in lockdown. It remains quarantined today.....
....On Jan. 1, gene sequencing companies received an order from Hubei’s health commission to stop testing and destroy all samples, according to an employee at one. “If you test it in the future, be sure to report it to us,” the person said they were told by phone.

Two days later on Jan. 3, the National Health Commission issued its gag order and said the Wuhan pneumonia samples needed to be treated as highly pathogenic microorganisms — and that any samples needed to be moved to approved testing facilities or destroyed.....
HT the story was out there, The Times of London, March 1:
Chinese scientists destroyed proof of virus in December

Earlier this evening:
"Timeline: The early days of China's coronavirus outbreak and cover-up
SCMP: "Coronavirus: China’s first confirmed Covid-19 case traced back to November 17"