The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body have been omitted to protect the source.
CDT obtained four leaked propaganda directives issued in January, which limited reporting on the spread of the novel coronavirus that has now infected more than two million and killed more than 150,000 worldwide:
Content related to the pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan must follow information issued by authoritative departments. To prevent false reports from causing panic, do not write conjecture, do not quote foreign news media, do not link to SARS (January 8, 2020) [Chinese]
Regarding the Wuhan novel coronavirus, authoritative government information shall prevail. Control push message notifications. (January 15, 2020) [Chinese]
Regarding reports related to the Wuhan epidemic situation, promptly publish official information and scientific epidemic prevention knowledge, in order to prevent panic. (January 22, 2020) [Chinese]
Regarding the Wuhan novel coronavirus, use standard content sources, do not re-publish unverified information from self-media, do not independently aggregate or edit, do not alter headlines. (January 22, 2020) [Chinese]
In late December, as a new strain of coronavirus appeared in Wuhan, Chinese authorities acted immediately to restrict news and information about the emerging public health crisis. On January 1, eight individuals were punished for allegedly spreading rumors; it was later discovered that they were medical professionals who had shared warnings within a closed group of colleagues. One of those who had been admonished, Dr. Li Wenliang, later died from the disease, and for many in China became a potent symbol of truth-telling, free speech, and human decency in the midst of a growing crisis. Throughout January and early February, the government issued several propaganda directives and detained individuals who were independently sharing information about the virus’s spread. On January 14, national and provincial health officials held a meeting to discuss the growing epidemic, but they failed to notify the public for several days, according to an AP report. On January 20, Xi Jinping made a national speech on the dangers of the virus and a leading epidemiologist publicly warned of human-to-human transmission for the first time. By the time Wuhan was put on city-wide lockdown on January 23, it is estimated that five million people had already left the city to travel throughout China and around the world.
Countries from France to the U.K. to the U.S. are placing blame on Chinese government obfuscation and censorship for allowing the disease to spread so rapidly and efficiently. In particular, many in China and around the world have doubted official transmission and death rates. On Friday, the Wuhan government announced that it has recalculated its original tally, adding precisely 50% more deaths to the original toll.