That is the question emerging again and again in headlines around the world as repeated U.S. government leaks cast doubts on the official case numbers from China, which muzzled early scientists raising alarm bells about the virus and tried to cover up the 2003 SARS outbreak.
But Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland isn’t saying whether Canadian officials have seen any of the intelligence data behind the reports and questions — questions that Health Minister Patty Hajdu claimed last week were simply fuelling what she called “conspiracy theories.”
“Of course we do share intelligence information through the Five Eyes … we have very frequent security and intelligence conversations with the United States,” Freeland said on Wednesday.
“A reason we are able to have those conversations — which are very important in the crisis that the world is experiencing today — is because those conversations happen in private and so I am not able to share details of what is discussed in those conversations.”
Freeland also said Canada relies on the data its scientists get from the World Health Organization.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also sidestepped questions last week on whether Canada had seen the intelligence and whether he trusted the Chinese numbers.
The coronavirus outbreak was first identified in China’s Hubei province in December 2019.
Scientists so far have suggested it likely jumped from bats to a secondary carrier animal before making the leap to infect humans at a Wuhan wet market.
China has reported 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths from the coronavirus.
But those numbers are under scrutiny as they pale in comparison to the recorded tallies in other countries, including the U.S., where 189,000 people have tested positive and more than 4,000 died.
Italy, as well, has reported 139,422 cases and 17,669 deaths.
Bloomberg first reported on April 1 that the American intelligence community concluded in a classified report for the Trump administration that China’s reporting on coronavirus cases and deaths was faked.
That report cited three U.S. intelligence officials calling the data from China “intentionally incomplete.”
The following day, the New York Times reported that the CIA had been warning the American administration since early February that China’s coronavirus tallies could not be trusted.
The intelligence officials cited in that report said a likely cause was that health officials in Wuhan had been hiding the real numbers out of fear of losing their jobs.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence has also said China likely knew about the cases at least a month before they shared them with the rest of the world, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged China to let U.S. scientists work directly with labs in Wuhan to try to get more accurate numbers.
A report by ABC News on Wednesday further expanded on the questions being raised, citing four U.S. officials who said American intelligence was warning back in November that China had lost control of a contagion sweeping through Wuhan.
That intelligence called the contagion a potential “cataclysmic event.”
Research published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet back in January also said there was evidence of human-to-human transmission in China in early December.
Those early patients, the research noted, were moved into hospital before the Wuhan wet market was identified as a possible source of transmission and shut down in January.
China reported the existence of the virus to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, 2019.
Since then, it has infected 1.5 million people around the world and killed more than 83,000.
In Canada, there are more than 17,880 cases and 380 deaths so far.
Public health officials warned the government in February that there were no resources to impose a mandatory quarantine on the 20,000 people coming to Canada from China each week at the time.
In recent days, federal ministers have pointed to China as a key supplier to Canada of medical gear like personal protective equipment, shipping millions of the items in the last roughly two weeks.
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