U.S. intelligence officials believe that the Chinese government misled the rest of the world about the contagiousness of COVID-19, all the while taking dramatic action to collect the medical supplies needed for its own battle against the virus, according to an analysis obtained by ABC News.
The report from the Department of Homeland Security claims that “the Chinese government intentionally concealed the severity of COVID-19 from the international community in early January while it stockpiled medical supplies by both increasing imports and decreasing exports.”
“China likely cut its exports of medical supplies prior to its January WHO notification that COVID-19 is a contagion,” according to the report, which was shared with law enforcement and government agencies on Friday.
The analysis looked at official and media reporting of imports and exports, and it examined alternative theories that might explain the dramatic January shift in trade patterns connected with critical health care equipment. However, none of those alternatives seemed plausible to U.S. intelligence experts, who wrote in the report: “The Chinese government attempted to hide its actions by denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data.”
Global trade data from February showed “a significant decline” in worldwide imports from China, according to the report. For example, imports of surgical gowns declined by 71%, surgical face masks by 48%, medical ventilators by 45% and intubation kits by 56%.
The February figures likely reflected a January reduction in exports from China because cargo typically takes at least 30 days to ship, according to the report.
The Department of Homeland Security said in the report it has “moderate confidence” in its overall assessment, according to analysis of the trade data. The document also notes that “in its communications, China intentionally concealed its trade activity by publicly denying it has ever imposed an export ban on masks and other medical supplies.”
Analysts reported U.S. intel does not have enough global trade information to find early evidence of a contagion, but, did say that with China producing about 80% of the world’s supply of maks a “stockpiling of face masks indicates a significant health concern.”