China spent the crucial first days of the outbreak arresting people who posted about it online and threatening journalists

  • In the early days of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Chinese officials arrested citizens they accused of spreading rumors about the illness online.
  • Journalists have also reported being detained and threatened by Chinese authorities while covering the outbreak.
  • Experts are now faulting the Chinese government for its harsh crackdown on the flow of information about the virus.
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As the Wuhan coronavirus death toll rose to at least 18 on Thursday, the Chinese government is facing questions over its vice grip on the flow of information in the early days of the outbreak.

In early January, the Wuhan police said they had arrested eight people accused of spreading “rumors” about what was then a mysterious pneumonia causing serious complications in patients.

When the coronavirus made national headlines, more and more journalists began to describe being detained or threatened with arrest by Chinese authorities while reporting on the outbreak.

The Wuhan outbreak immediately harked back to the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s, which the Chinese government tried to cover up. The two viruses are in the same family, which also includes the common cold and pneumonia, but Wuhan so far is much milder than SARS.

While the government was almost immediately forthcoming with the international community about this outbreak, its actions in suppressing information at home have left some experts concerned that it made the situation worse than it might have been.

The coronavirus has spread outside China to Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the US.