Four Corners: April 19

At least we can’t be cited as the authors of this one…

Four Corners on Monday will screen “54 Days: China and the Pandemic” which is a report from the BBC’s This World.

On the 23rd of January last year Chinese authorities announced they were locking down the city of Wuhan, home to some eleven million people. The Chinese government was desperate to contain an outbreak of a new virus that would soon be labelled COVID-19. What they didn’t reveal was that the virus had already been circulating for at least seven weeks while Chinese officials tried to stop the news of it getting out.

“The hospital told us that we were not allowed to speak to anyone. They wouldn’t even let us wear masks, they said they were afraid of causing panic among the patients. I thought the leaders were stupid.” Wuhan health worker

On Monday Four Corners brings you an investigation into what the Chinese government knew about the virus and compelling evidence of a determined campaign to keep it under wraps.

“The government is obliged by law to report that to the World Health Organisation within 24 hours. So, it was reportable. The failure to report clearly was a violation of the international health regulations.” Professor of global health law

The program pieces together the how the COVID-19 outbreak was discovered, and the lengths Chinese authorities went to, to keep it quiet.

“Once the Chinese authorities confirmed it was a coronavirus, at that point it seemed absolutely ridiculous that we couldn’t release the data.” Health researcher

In interviews with key health specialists around the globe, the story of those crucial few weeks unfolds.

“Social media was ripe with lots of chatter going on in Chinese of an outbreak and did we know anything about it? I was able to monitor the … posts and it was just going wild. My reaction was we’re in trouble.” Medical journal editor

Secretly obtained recordings reveal the growing level of alarm within world health circles and their frustration over the lack of transparency from China.

“We’re going on very minimal information. I know it’s clearly not enough for you to do proper planning with it.” World Health Organisation official on secret recording

The World Health Organisation itself has been criticised for being too slow to react and too ready to believe China’s reassurances. In one interview, a senior member of the WHO’s investigation team defends their actions and those of China.

“Every day we would go back and we would ask for more information and we would receive information every day. Was it enough every single day? No, but I could say that for every country that we dealt with in every outbreak that we have dealt with.” WHO investigator

Health workers at the outbreak’s epicentre have been prohibited from speaking publicly but one has defied the ban to reveal how the unprecedented health emergency unfolded.

“Every day there were several hundred people with fever arriving at our emergency department. I was definitely afraid, I realised that this illness was everywhere.” Wuhan health worker

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the globe, investigators and international health experts say it’s crucial the lessons from this pandemic are learned, as it will not be the last.

“I don’t think it’s clear right now exactly how history is going to view this pandemic. It might have been the case where it was already too late by the time we realised that this virus was spreading. But I think what we can say based on what we know right now, it’s clear that there were mistakes that were made, there were clear delays and many people did suffer the consequences.” Investigative reporter

Monday 19th April at 8.30pm on ABC.

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