U.S. officials believe the Chinese government misled the rest of the world about the contagiousness of COVID-19, while taking action to collect medical supplies needed for its own battle against the virus, ABC News reported Saturday.
The information coming from a report from the Department of Homeland Security claiming that "the Chinese government intentionally concealed the severity of COVID-19 from the international community in early January while it stockpiled medical supplies by both increasing imports and decreasing exports."
The report was obtained by ABC News after it was shared with law enforcement and government agencies on Friday.
"China likely cut its exports of medical supplies prior to its January WHO notification that COVID-19 is a contagion," the report said.
ABC News said the analysis looked at official and media reporting of imports and exports, as well as examined alternate theories as to why there was a shift in trade patterns connected with critical health care equipment in January. But U.S. officials believed none of the alternate theories were plausible.
"The Chinese government attempted to hide its actions by denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data," the report said.
Global trade data from February showed "a significant decline" in worldwide imports from China, which likely reflects a January reduction in exports from China because cargo typically takes at least 30 days to ship, ABC News said. For example, imports of surgical gowns declined by 71%, surgical face masks by 48%, medical ventilators by 45% and intubation kits by 56%.
The Department of Homeland Security said in the report it has "moderate confidence" in its overall assessment, according to ABC News.