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‘Beijing suppressing true scale’

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“We do not care what the government says. I will tell you through social media. Everyone, please donate masks, glasses and clothes to Wuhan”

A NURSE wearing a protective suit and face mask treating the sick in Wuhan has claimed that 90 000 people have already been infected by the coronavirus in China – far more than the figure of just 1 400 issued by government officials.

Her warning from the heart of the outbreak emerged as the Chinese government faced accusations of censoring criticism of its handling of the disease in order to play down the crisis.

Speaking in video footage seen online, the unnamed woman said: “I am in the area where the coronavirus started. I am here to tell the truth. At this moment, Hubei province, including Wuhan area, even China, 90 000 people have been infected by coronavirus.”

Despite China being initially praised for its transparency in managing the situation, critics have now claimed that officials are scrubbing the internet of videos that reveal the true situation.

However, the nurse’s report has been viewed almost two million times on YouTube. In the footage, she warns people not to go outside and to refrain from celebrating the Chinese New Year.

She said: “I would like to say that everyone who is currently watching this video should not go outside. Do not party. Do not eat out. Once a year, we celebrate Chinese New Year. If you are safe now, you will be able to meet your family again healthy next year.”

Making a desperate plea for supplies, she said: “We do not care what the government says. I will tell you through social media. Everyone, please donate masks, glasses and clothes to Wuhan.

“Please help us. Please donate disposable goggles, disposable masks and disposable clothing. Currently our resources are not enough.”

Horrifying clips have been posted online by shocked citizens only to be deleted shortly after. In one, the sick are seen sitting between drips and oxygen tanks next to three dead bodies covered in white sheets. The footage was deleted from social media channel Weibo.

Last week, in rare public dissent, a senior journalist at a Hubei provincial newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party called for an “immediate” change of leadership in Wuhan on Weibo. The post was later removed.

The People’s Daily, a state-owned newspaper, posted a video of an apparently cured patient flashing the peace sign alongside four medics. But the Global Times revealed that vital resources, including masks and goggles, were urgently needed.

Critics have also claimed that many health experts who would have been able to warn the government at an early stage of the dangers of coronavirus have been detained or had their research stopped because they were not working within the Chinese state.

The accusations of a cover-up echo the furore surrounding the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in 2002 when the government concealed the existence of the illness not just from the outside world but from its own people.

Newspapers were forbidden from reporting the disease other than occasional statements from government officials reassuring the public there was nothing to worry about.