The Covid pandemic could have been avoided and contained to Wuhan, a professor has claimed in a damning book that lifts the lid on Chinese blunders that allowed the virus to spread across the globe and kill millions of people.

‘Wuhan: How the Covid-19 Outbreak in China Spiraled Out of Control’, by leading author Professor Dali Yang was published on Friday and explores the pandemic in forensic detail.

Prof Yang draws a devastating conclusion that the pandemic, which started with the first known patients in the eastern Chinese city in late December 2019, was not inevitable.

The book explores key events that came before a lockdown was imposed on Wuhan, including how a mass banquet was held on January 18 that saw more than 100,000 people come together despite health officials knowing the virus was spreading.

Prof Yang offers a deep analysis of who knew what and when about the virus, but barely touches on the origins of Covid-19, The Telegraph reports.

Workers in protective suits take part in the disinfection of Huanan seafood market, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have first surfaced, in Wuhan

Workers in protective suits take part in the disinfection of Huanan seafood market, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have first surfaced, in Wuhan

Professor Dali Yang draws a devastating conclusion that the pandemic, which started with the first known patients in the eastern Chinese city in late December 2019, was not inevitable

Professor Dali Yang draws a devastating conclusion that the pandemic, which started with the first known patients in the eastern Chinese city in late December 2019, was not inevitable

It instead looks at the individual heroism seen during the pandemic as well as the flawed decision-making and lack of clarity as officials tried to deal with a mysterious ‘pneumonia of unknown etiology’.

Prof Yang concludes that the global pandemic, which led to the deaths of an estimated 13.3 to 16.6million people worldwide, could have been prevented.

‘I do think there was a meaningful chance that the pandemic could have been avoided,’ Prof Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, told The Telegraph.

The professor believes that Chinese health authorities were dealt a ‘remarkably strong hand of cards’ in the early days of the virus breaking out.

‘China is a country with significant capabilities, which could have advanced the knowledge and response more rapidly at the end of December 2019,’ he added.

But he says any advantage was destroyed by a authoritarian political system that was not prepared for the emergency. 

The pandemic dates back to when several of Wuhan’s doctors at some of China’s best hospitals discovered that  a ‘pneumonia of unknown etiology’ in the city was showing sign of ‘human-to-human’ transmission.

Experts had feared that the virus was linked to the SARS coronavirus that plagued East Asia between 2002 and 2004. On doctor told the local Centre for Disease Control (CDC): ‘It’s a disease we’ve never encountered before, it’s also a family [cluster of] infections. Something is definitely wrong!’

Coronavirus was confirmed by Vision Medicals, a lab based in Guangzhou, who tested ‘Patient A’ – a 65-year-old man with severe pneumonia and ‘multiple scattered patchy faint opacities in both lungs’. 

Workers arrange food supplies at the Tiantongyuan residential complex where residents are under lockdown to halt the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus on November 3, 2021 in Beijing

Workers arrange food supplies at the Tiantongyuan residential complex where residents are under lockdown to halt the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus on November 3, 2021 in Beijing

Workers line up to get tested for COVID-19 at the Foxconn factory in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Aug. 5, 2021

Workers line up to get tested for COVID-19 at the Foxconn factory in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Aug. 5, 2021

‘Due to the sensitivity of the diagnostic results’, the lab only confirmed the positive test result for a SARS-like coronavirus to the hospital over the phone and not in writing.

Doctors found it was 81 per cent similar to the first SARS coronavirus outbreak. And screenshots that appeared online showed the virus was instantly recognised as something that ‘should be treated in the same class as the plague’ in order to contain it.

Despite growing evidence pointing towards a possible pandemic, the local CDC was slow in its response.

Gao Fu, the director general of the national CDC, only head about the Wuhan outbreak via social media on December 30. 

And while he acted swiftly with emergency responses, the next few weeks were marred by mistakes, censorship and political interests which failed to stop the virus spreading rampantly.

Medical workers conduct hemodialysis treatment for an uremic patient recovering from COVID-19 infection at Hankou Hospital in Wuhan in March 2020

Medical workers conduct hemodialysis treatment for an uremic patient recovering from COVID-19 infection at Hankou Hospital in Wuhan in March 2020

‘The first week in January became a pivotal turning point for handling the outbreak. Just the wrong kind,’ the book states. ‘The failure to act before January 20 was monumental.’

One of the biggest mistakes was failing to respond to several cases in Wuhan that were not linked to the Huanan Seafood Market – the location of the first clusters.

Prof Yang suggests that when the market was therefore closed, people believed the virus was under control and the virus was able to spread amid a false sense of security.

Other factors that contributed to working against containing the virus was China’s political tradition of suppressing information to maintain social stability.

‘Clearly many [doctors] are heroes but, if you read between the lines, they also operated within constraints,’ Prof Yang said. 

‘It’s clearly not a black and white picture but shades of grey. Some of the most heroic doctors happened to be also ones who might not have spoken up like they could have. It’s a very complicated picture.’ 

Doctors who did speak out were reprimanded by police and infections among hospital staff were covered up .

Even as Wuhan moved closer towards a lockdown, high-profile events such as Chinese New Year celebrations were still showcased to try and prove everything was under control.

This photo taken on February 24, 2020 shows medical staff treating patients infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province

This photo taken on February 24, 2020 shows medical staff treating patients infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province

It was Taiwan’s Dr Chuang Yin-ching who said the outbreak was much worse than feared on January 13 2020. When he returned, Taiwan issued a travel alert for Wuhan and tightened border controls.

But back in Wuhan, the severity of the virus continued to be downplayed and it was left to Dr Zhong Nanshan, 83, a trusted veteran of the first SARS epidemic, to warn that Covid was ‘certainly transmissible from human to human’.

He confirmed that cases were being seen in Beijing, Guangdong, Shanghai, and Zhejiang and even abroad in Japan, South Korea and Thailand. At this point, China was put on alert and citizens were advised to wear face masks. 

However, New Year celebrations still took place in the Wuhan and Hubei province, with residents invited to apply for 200,000 free passes to visit landmark sites. Local media praised performers for continuing despite being sick.

By the time Wuhan was sealed off from the rest of the world on January 23, some 500,000 people had left the country for the holidays. 

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