The recordings were taken at a crucial time in early January when there were fewer than 100 recorded cases of Covid-19.
By the end of the month, the number of cases had exploded to nearly 10,000, when the WHO declared a global health emergency.
Throughout January, the World Health Organization publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus.
It repeatedly thanked the Chinese government for sharing the genetic map of the virus ‘immediately,’ and said its work and commitment to transparency were ‘very impressive, and beyond words.’
But behind the scenes, it was a different story, one of significant delays by China and considerable frustration among WHO officials over not getting the information they needed to fight the spread of the deadly virus, The Associated Press has found.
Despite the plaudits, China in fact sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.
Tight controls on information and competition within the Chinese public health system were to blame, according to dozens of interviews and internal documents. Chinese government labs only released the genome after another lab published it ahead of authorities on a virologist website on January 11.
Even then, China stalled for at least two weeks more on providing WHO with detailed data on patients and cases, according to recordings of internal meetings held by the U.N. health agency through January – all at a time when the outbreak arguably might have been dramatically slowed.