March 30, 2020

OOPS: China Created a Fail-Safe System to Track Contagions. It Failed. “After SARS, Chinese health officials built an infectious disease reporting system to evade political meddling. But when the coronavirus emerged, so did fears of upsetting Beijing.”

After doctors in Wuhan began treating clusters of patients stricken with a mysterious pneumonia in December, the reporting was supposed to have been automatic. Instead, hospitals deferred to local health officials who, over a political aversion to sharing bad news, withheld information about cases from the national reporting system — keeping Beijing in the dark and delaying the response.

The central health authorities first learned about the outbreak not from the reporting system but after unknown whistle-blowers leaked two internal documents online.

Even after Beijing got involved, local officials set narrow criteria for confirming cases, leaving out information that could have provided clues that the virus was spreading among humans.

Resistance to sending bad news up the chain is typical of any authoritarian regime.

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