CNN Exclusive: Leaked documents reveal China’s mishandling of the early stages of the pandemic

An unprecedented leak of internal Chinese documents to CNN reveals for the first time what China knew in the opening weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, but did not tell the world.

In an exclusive investigation, led by CNN’s International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh, 117 pages of internal documents expose a chaotic and underfunded provincial health care system struggling to confront a mysterious viral outbreak.

The documents show a chaotic local response from the start of the outbreak. They contain evidence of clear missteps and point to a pattern of institutional failings at several critical moments in the early phase of the pandemic, resulting in misleading public announcements of new cases and deaths, a three-week lag in diagnosing new virus cases, and a previously undeclared regional spike in influenza cases in early December – when the first cases of the virus are thought to have emerged.

CNN obtained the documents from a whistle-blower who said they worked inside the Chinese healthcare system. CNN has verified them with a number of experts and a European security official, and by using complex digital forensic analysis. The documents provide the first clear window into what local authorities knew and when, despite trying to appear in control while a local outbreak turned into a global pandemic.

China’s foreign ministry and health officials in Beijing and Wuhan have not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.