January 14, 2020 WHO made the following claim:

Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China


Implying that, at the time, WHO had no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

Additionally implying that, at the time, China had no evidence of human to human transmission.

Counter claim

There are two claims here: one is that WHO didn’t have evidence of human-to-human transmission, and the other is that China didn’t either.

Warning from Taiwan

On December 31, 2019, Taiwan sent an email to WHO via the IHR system regarding human-to-human transmission. WHO responded with “Well received, we will pass the message to our experts”.

Email content:

New resources today indicate that at least seven atypical pnemonia cases were reported in Wuhan, CHINA. Their health authorities replied to the media that the cases were believed not SARS; however the samples are still under examination, and cases have been isolated for treatment.

I would greatly appreciate it if you have relevant information to share with us. […]

With the following explaination for laymen:

“Atypical pneumonia” to #China means #SARS. Patients “treated in isolation” means human-to-human transmission.

MOFA Taiwan on Twitter with email source.

Taiwan said its doctors had heard from mainland colleagues that medical staff were getting ill — a sign of human-to-human transmission. Taipei officials said they reported this to both International Health Regulations (IHR), a WHO framework for exchange of epidemic prevention and response data between 196 countries, and Chinese health authorities on December 31.

Taiwanese government officials told the Financial Times the warning was not shared with other countries.

“While the IHR’s internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on the epidemic and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s [Centers for Disease Control] is being put up there,” said Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s vice-president.

“The WHO could not obtain first-hand information to study and judge whether there was human-to-human transmission of Covid-19. This led it to announce human-to-human transmission with a delay, and an opportunity to raise the alert level both in China and the wider world was lost,” said Mr Chen, an epidemiologist by training who was health minister at the time of the Sars outbreak.

Quote from Financial times.

Additional sources:

Chinese claim

In Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia published March 26, 2020 the following conclusion is made:

On the basis of this information, there is evidence that human-to-human transmission has occurred among close contacts since the middle of December 2019

There is also evidence that China were actively covering up the outbreak by punishing doctors such as Lin Wenliang for “spreading rumours” when he was warning people online of the virus late December last year. Other whistleblowers were also involved. The Chinese authorities have partially self-corrected by making attempts at apologizing to Dr Wenliang, who later died of the virus.


Comments and verdict

The email from Taiwan CDC doesn’t directly mention human-to-human transmission, but it appears to be implied for experts with the language used. To argue WHO weren’t aware of, at the very least, possible H2H transmission at the time amounts to acting downplaying the risks in an irresponsible manner.

As for China, considering the state in Wuhan at the time and a month earlier, it seems highly unlikely the Chinese authorities weren’t aware of human-to-human transmission at the time.


Image from