China 'hid coronavirus outbreak for nearly a week', says ex-MI6 chief

A former head of MI6 head has claimed that China concealed information about the coronavirus outbreak from the rest of the world.

Sir John Sawer spoke out after Donald Trump withdrew U.S. funding for the World Health Organisation claiming it had covered up the spread of Covid-19.

He said that in actual fact, the President should criticise Beijing. Sir John told the BBC: ‘There is deep anger in America at what they see as having been inflicted on us all by China, and China is evading a good deal of responsibility for the origin of the virus, for failing to deal with it… initially.’

He added: ‘Intelligence is about acquiring information which has been concealed from you by other states and other actors.  Now, there was a brief period in December and January when the Chinese were indeed concealing this from the West.’

Experts have long suggested China deliberately downplayed the seriousness of the situation – leading to calls for WHO leader Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign. 

One Chinese whistleblower, Dr Li Wenliang, died with the disease shortly after warning friends how serious it was – and being reprimanded by the authorities for his intervention.

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Sir John, who has also served as the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, said the pandemic would have an impact on international relations.

The former intelligence agency chief continued: ‘The trends that are under way anyway, the growing dependence on technology, the weakening of international bodies like the United Nations, the shift of economic power to Asia – I think these are all going to move forward more rapidly now as in the context of this pandemic.’

Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: ‘If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.’

President Trump accused the WHO of severely mismanaging the spread of the virus.

He said his administration would suspend funding of up to £400 million ($500 million) a year for the organisation.

Last week, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom hit out at Trump’s threats to freeze funding, and accused him of ‘playing politics’ with the crisis.

The USA is widely predicted to become the country worst hit by the pandemic.

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