Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects the novel coronavirus prevention and control work at Anhuali Community in Beijing, China, February 10, 2020.

Xinhua via REUTERS

China delayed the release of information about the coronavirus, according to a new investigation.

Its health officials did not share the coronavirus genome until over a week after scientists in Chinese laboratories decoded it at the beginning of January.

Beijing did not warn the World Health Organization that the virus passed between people until two weeks later.

At the time the WHO publicly praised China for its speedy response.

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China withheld key information about the coronavirus for weeks after it first emerged in January, delaying the international response to the outbreak, a new investigation has revealed.

Chinese officials failed to share the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for over a week after first decoding it and failed to reveal that the virus could be transmitted between humans for a further two weeks, according to internal World Health Organization documents and testimony obtained by the Associated Press.

The AP reported on Tuesday that while scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology decoded the virus on January 2, Chinese health officials did not publish the details of their findings until over a week later, on January 12.

It wasn’t until January 20 that the Chinese state alerted the World Health Organisation and other governments that the virus could pass between people, according to the Associated Press investigation.

This was only after a laboratory in Shanghai led by scientist Zhang Yongzhen published the information a day earlier.

Related video: How location data helps track the spread of  COVID-19 

At the time the World Health Organization publicly praised China for what it described as its speedy response to the virus. 

However, WHO officials were privately concerned that China was sitting on key information about the virus.

“We’re currently at the stage where yes, they’re giving it to us 15 minutes before it appears on [Chinese state television channel] CCTV,” WHO official, Dr. Gauden Galea, said in one meeting.

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The WHO were reportedly frustrated with China’s failure to release the data quickly, and feared being blamed for a delayed global response to the outbreak of the deadly virus, the AP report says.

Dr Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, is quoted as saying: “The danger now is that despite our good intent… there will be a lot of finger-pointing at WHO if something does happen.”

President  Trump  has lambasted the WHO and accused it of being controlled by China. He said last week that the US was “terminating its relationship” with the WHO, and re-directing the millions of dollars it gives to the global health body elsewhere.

The AP report says that the National Health Commission, Beijing’s most senior health authority, blocked laboratories from releasing information about the  COVID-19  virus without its approval, meaning there was a delay in information being published lasting most of January.

UK under pressure to cut ties with BeijingUS Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Getty

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to chair a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday, with the UK’s relationship with China reportedly top of the agenda.

Johnson is under pressure from increasing numbers of Members of Parliament in his Conservative party to loosen ties with China for its handling of the coronavirus, as well as its recent move to impose new laws on Hong Kong.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is set to make a statement on Hong Kong in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon after holding a videoconferencewith US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and counterparts from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand on Monday evening.

Prime Minister Johnson is also expected to shrink Huawei’s role in developing Britain’s 5G network after striking a controversial agreement with the Chinese telecomms firm earlier this year.

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