By this time — but almost certainly well before — Chinese President Xi Jinping must have known what was transpiring. On Jan. 7, he hosted a CCP leadership meeting and likely was briefed by health officials about the Wuhan outbreak. We do not know exactly what was said in that meeting, of course, but from subsequent conduct and leaked information, we know that China began to take measures to stop the outbreak’s progression while still concealing it from the public. Xi ordered that officials must not spoil the atmosphere of the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year, during which about 3 billion national trips take place. This is perhaps the primary reason that Chinese authorities and media deliberately misled the public about contagion.
During a critical window of time between Jan. 6 and Jan. 19, Wuhan reported no new cases as the city and Hubei province proceeded to open their “two sessions” — the annual plenary meetings and the Chinese people’s political consultative conferences, with over 2,300 delegates in attendance. The Wuhan government insisted on proceeding with a lunar year banquet on Jan. 18, where 40,000 families gathered to share home-cooked food. Other official new year celebration events didn’t end until the city closed down on Jan. 23.
Based on statistics in the New England Journal of Medicine, we estimate there were about 300 cases of COVID-19 confirmed during this time. The official number of 41 as of Jan. 19 is certainly false.