The Chinese authorities were not clear about the “scale” and “infectiousness” of the early coronavirus outbreak, Michael Gove said yesterday, as senior Tories called on the government to “rethink” its relationship with Beijing.
In comments that will irritate the Chinese authorities, who have been keen to play up their success in tackling Covid-19, Mr Gove implicitly criticised China’s early response to the outbreak.
The first known case of coronavirus was identified in Wuhan at the start of December and the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on December 9 that a “new viral outbreak” had been detected in the city. However, it was not until December 31 that the country officially notified the World Health Organisation that it had detected “pneumonia of unknown etiology” in Wuhan.
Mr Gove was asked yesterday when the UK started ordering tests for Covid-19 in light of the disease emerging in Wuhan in December. He suggested that a lack of information on the virus from China had been one of the reasons for the slow international response.
“The first case of coronavirus in China was established in December last year but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of it,” he said.
The Mail on Sunday reported a senior government figure saying that after the virus had been contained there would have to be a “reckoning” with China. Downing Street declined to comment.
In a highly critical article in the same newspaper the former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused China of a “cover-up”.
“As a result of Beijing’s cover-up and delay, global health experts are convinced the rest of the world had insufficient time to prepare,” he wrote. “For too long, nations have lamely kow-towed to China in the desperate hope of winning trade deals. Once we get clear of this terrible pandemic it is imperative that we all rethink that relationship.”