China and Covid-19: what went wrong in Wuhan?

China and Covid-19: what went wrong in Wuhan?

The first days and weeks of the pandemic were crucial. So why was no action taken? Through a six-month investigation in the city, the FT has uncovered the answers

This is the first part of a major Financial Times series, Coronavirus: could the world have been spared?, investigating the global response to the crisis and whether the disaster could have been averted.

The FT has spoken to dozens of medical professionals, government officials and ordinary citizens in Wuhan to find out what really happened in the first weeks of the outbreak.

During the investigation, some of the people approached were threatened by police, who said that the FT had come to the city with “malicious intent”. Police harassment of virus victims, their relatives and anyone hoping to speak to them is continuing, raising doubts about whether Xi Jinping’s administration is really willing to facilitate the impartial investigation into the pandemic that it has promised the world.

The virus arrives

It was in late December, while scrolling through his Twitter feed, that Gao Fei first noticed chatter about a possible virus outbreak in Wuhan. 

Mr Gao, who had grown up near Wuhan, regularly used virtual private network software to hop over the “Great Firewall”, as China’s internet censorship regime is more popularly known, to access banned sites such as Twitter. While government officials and state media were saying very little about the virus, he was determined to learn more.