WHISTLEBLOWERS who tried to warn Chinese officials last month about the deadly outbreak at Wuhan’s live animal market were arrested for “spreading rumours”.
A leading UK expert on China said eight people were held for talking about the coronavirus outbreak on a Chinese messaging service WeChat.
The deadly virus has killed at least 212 people in China and affected around 8,000 people.
Dr Yukteshwar Kumar of the University of Bath told the Mirror eight people were arrested for “spreading rumours”.
He said: “They were asked to sign a confession stating that they will not spread false news.
“If they had taken steps earlier the situation could have been better because they did know about it.”
The doctor said if the government had acted on the information, the whistleblowers might have been aware of the virus as early as December last year, which suggests the authorities could have stopped people travelling sooner.
“I highly appreciate the efforts made by the government of China in locking down the whole city,” said Dr Kumar.
“However if they’d listened to the advice of these eight people and some scientists, the situation would have been perhaps better.”
A legal document seen by the Mirror appears to be signed and finger-printed by citizens promising to stop discussing the outbreak.
Tests on nine of the first infected Chinese patients revealed the disease spread to humans from an animal sold at Wuhan’s Huanan seafood market.
China’s market watchdog, agricultural ministry and forestry bureau announced a nationwide temporary ban on the wildlife trade last week.
Any places that breed wildlife should be isolated, and the transportation of wildlife should be banned, said the statement.
The news comes as The World health Organisation’s (WHO) emergency committee declared an international public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.
The UK remains on high alert as fears spread with medics in hazmat suits seen in London and York and a Heathrow flight put on lockdown.
Meanwhile, a rescue flight carrying Brits from coronavirus-hit Wuhan will finally leave China tonight.
It’s understood the passengers had to be at the airport for 11pm and the flight was scheduled to leave shortly after.
The rescue flight will then land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at around 10.45am tomorrow.
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Experts warned the first confirmed case of the deadly virus in Britain is only a matter of time as panic stalks the country.
Cases of the killer virus have tripled in just three days — with the strain infecting more people in China than SARS did.
There have been no reported deaths outside of China.