The week of silence came at a critical time — the beginning of the outbreak. Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show the National Health Commission ordered secret pandemic preparations, even as it downplayed the outbreak on national television.The documents include a memo about a secret teleconference on Jan. 14 held by China’s top health official, Ma Xiaowei. Ma called the situation “severe and complex, the most severe challenge since SARS in 2003,” and predicted that it is “likely to develop into a major public health event.”
“All localities must prepare for and respond to a pandemic,” the memo said.The memo stated that the teleconference was held to convey instructions on the coronavirus from President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, but did not specify what those instructions were.
During the week of public silence, tens of thousands of people dined at a mass Lunar New Year banquet. Millions also traveled through Wuhan for Lunar New Year festivities. The early delay set the stage for a pandemic that has infected more than 2 million people and taken more than 133,000 lives.