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Ministers 'fully aware' China was covering up extent of coronavirus outbreak in early weeks of crisis

Ministers 'fully aware' China was covering up extent of coronavirus outbreak in early weeks of crisisMinisters were made "fully aware" by intelligence agencies that China had covered up the true scale of the coronavirus outbreak, it was claimed on Sunday night, raising questions over Britain's decision to delay the lockdown. The UK Government was told "not to believe Beijing’s claims" from the outset and to treat information coming out of China with scepticism, The Telegraph understands. A senior former MI6 official said the intelligence agencies knew what was "really happening" in China and passed that information to ministers. Doubts are also being expressed over China's insistence that the outbreak began in a so-called "wet market" in Wuhan, where live animals were being sold. The spotlight is being turned on the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology amid claims that lax biosecurity may have allowed the disease, being examined in the lab, to somehow escape. A Chinese television news report dating from two years ago shows scientists in the institute's "emerging viruses group" wearing only lab coats and latex gloves but no other form of protective personal equipment. The latest studies suggest the true number of people infected in China in the first wave, dating back to mid-February, was close to a quarter of a million – four times higher than the official figure. China has also since revised its death toll up by 50 per cent. Downing Street continued to use China's official figures in comparative graphs on the scale of the outbreak until just over a week ago, but then dropped the country from the charts over concerns about the accuracy of the data.

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