Chinese leader Xi Jinping is drawing flak for allegedly suppressing information about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak early on. An internal speech published by state media reveals that the Chinese leader was responsible for the bungled response to the outbreak, leading to its rapid spread.

Jinping publicly acknowledged the coronavirus outbreak in China on Jan. 20, about a month after Chinese authorities had punished “whistleblower” Doctor Li Wenliang for “falsely” warning the public about the dangers of the virus in December. However, a resurfaced speech by the Chinese state media reveals Jinping had been aware of the deadly virus two weeks earlier than the first time he warned his people about the outbreak.

In a speech he delivered before top government officials on Jan. 7, Jinping issued demands about preventing and controlling the disease. However, it wasn’t until Jan. 20 that he publicly acknowledged that there was an outbreak.

While the speech reveals that Jinping took charge of the response as soon as it was confirmed in early January, this new piece of evidence has fueled more backlash from the public. According to critics, Jinping’s failure to disclose information about the disease and sound the alarm early enough is proof that the Chinese government has dithered on its response to the outbreak, ignoring evidence that it could spread from person to person until it was already too late.

Despite Jinping’s awareness of the coronavirus, he approved a banquet for about 40,000 families on Jan. 18 in Wuhan, the city where the virus originated. Hubei province officials also convened for their annual gathering that same week while downplaying—or deliberately covering up-- the severity of the virus. It was during that period that the number of coronavirus cases in Wuhan started to spiral.

Today, 68,500 people have already been infected by the coronavirus and 1,669 have already died. Health officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday, Feb. 16, that while the spread of the virus appears to be slowing, COVID-19 remains unpredictable.

corona virus The novel coronavirus has already infected thousands in China. World Health Organization (WHO) / Facebook