Though Chinese authorities did not announce the existence of the novel coronavirus until December 27 of last year, the first known case of a person infected with the new virus that has since become a global pandemic appeared on November 17 — nearly six weeks earlier. The revelation comes from Chinese government documents revealed in a report by The South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong.
According to the report, China has now identified 266 cases of coronavirus that appeared before the end of 2019. But citing "whistle-blowers from the medical community," The Morning Post reports that it took until late December for Chinese medical authorities to understand that a new virus was on the loose.
China has come under heavy criticism for alleged attempts to cover up the existence of the newly discovered viral outbreak, which has infected about 81,000 people in China so far and nearly 129,000 worldwide, according to a report by The Guardian newspaper.
The Guardian said that it could not verify the documents cited by The South China Morning Post, and the Hong Kong paper did not describe them nor reveal where its reporters had obtained the government records.
Yet, The Post reported that the documents show that a 55-year-old man from Hubei province — home of the city of Wuhan — appears to be the first known victim of coronavirus.
In the United States, the first known case was reported on January 20. President Donald Trump held the first White House meeting on how to respond to the virus one week later, according to a Wall Street Journal report published on Thursday.
At that meeting, Trump reportedly appeared "uninterested" in the topic of the virus, and instead pelted Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar with questions about the flawed rollout of the administration's ban on vaping.
Over subsequent weeks, according to one reporter who has covered the administration's coronavirus response, Trump "made clear" that he did not want aggressive testing for coronavirus because he believed that tests uncovering high numbers of cases would reflect poorly on him and damage his chances for reelection in the fall.
The name of the coronavirus "patient zero" was not revealed in the Morning Post report, but whoever the man was, his disease — later named COVID-19 — spread rapidly. By December 27, when a Hubei-based doctor named Zhang Jixian told authorities that he had identified the new coronavirus, there were already 180 cases. By the final day of the year, China had 266 confirmed cases and 381 on the first day of 2020, according to the Morning Post report.