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The coronavirus pandemic could have been avoided if China had told the world of human-to-human transmission earlier, a top doctor has claimed in a new documentary.
The claims are made in ITV's new coronavirus documentary Outbreak: The Virus that Shook the World, which aired on Tuesday night.
It claims China was aware of the virus long before it revealed its existence to the world.
Film-makers track the origins of the Covid-19 virus, taking viewers back to the beginnings of the pandemic which has now killed more than two million people worldwide.
It features undercover footage from Wuhan and leading medical figures claiming Chinese authorities tried to cover up the discovery that the disease had "jumped" from animals, was spreading fast – and was deadly.
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Leading Taiwan virologists launched searing criticisms of China's handling of the initial outbreak in the documentary, claiming it was not cooperative with their efforts to learn more about the mysterious new outbreak.
Taiwan is self-ruled, but China claims the territory as its own.
Its islands' handling of the pandemic has been hailed as world-leading, as cases and deaths remained low despite its proximity to the mainlaind.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr Yi-Chun Lo, the Deputy Director-General of Centers for Disease Control in Taiwan, called China's handling of the early outbreak a 'mess' and 'failure.'
He told the documentary-makers China should have been more transparent about the outbreak and quickly relayed what it knew to the rest of the world.
Dr Yin-Ching Chuang, from the Infectious Diseases Prevention and Treatment Network in Taiwan, said he and his team had been pushing to get into Wuhan early in the outbreak.
He told the documentary-makers it took his team weeks to get permission to access the city.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr Yi-Chun Lo, Deputy Director-General of Centers for Disease Control in Taiwan
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Once there, they struggled to get answers on whether the new virus was spreading between humans, he claimed.
The doctor said it took weeks for Chinese officials to admit the possibility the virus was already passing between humans.
Dr Chuang said: "What was the scale of infection? How big was this epidemic? How many patients were affected? We didn’t know. Only they knew this.
"Why didn't China inform other countries of this human-to-human matter earlier?"
A poster in Wuhan commemorates the city's success in ending its Covid-19 outbreak
The documentary also featured undercover footage filmed by citizen journalist.
They secretly filmed Chinese medics admitting they knew of deaths as far back as December 2019, and claiming the government had told them to keep quiet.
Beijing has faced repeated accusations of a cover-up, which it denies.
China has said the outbreak began in Wuhan at the end of December 2019.
The documentary shows footage of scientists not wearing gloves as they dealt with wild bats
But one of the medics is filmed secretly, saying: "Actually, at the end of December or beginning of January, the relative of someone I know died of this virus.
"Many of those living with him were also infected, including people I know."
Another said: "We all felt there shouldn’t be any doubt about human to human transmission."
Speaking after Wuhan was released from lockdown, the medics also claimed the central government had been warned January's Chinese New Year festivities would drive the spread of the outbreak.
But city officials' request it be cancelled were ignored in favour of presenting a 'harmonious and prosperous' society, they claimed.
One health professional added: "We knew this virus transmitted from human to human. But when we attended a hospital meeting, we were told not to speak out.
The documentary takes us back to the streets of Wuhan early in the pandemic
"The provincial leaders told the hospitals not to tell the truth."
The documentary also features footage of wet markets with live animals crammed in cages, as film-makers reminded viewers they are still operating despite international pressure calling for bans.
Heartbreaking footage shows a man filming inside a funeral parlour truck piled with body bags, at the time Chinese authorities were still assuring the public there was nothing to fear.
It aired as outgoing US President Donald Trump's administration fired final parting shots at Beijing's handling of the pandemic this week as he prepared to leave office.
A citizen journalist secretly filmed the medics in Wuhan talking
The US Department of State claimed to have evidence that scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had experienced Covid-19 like symptoms months before the world knew of the disturbing new illness.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was said to be preparing to declassify US intelligence concerning the Wuhan lab before Trump left office.
His department cited American intelligence reports, but did not present direct evidence of the claims.
The US has stopped short of backing a widespread conspiracy theory that the virus 'leaked' from the Wuhan lab.
A picture of China's President Xi Jinping is displayed at an exhibition about China's Covid-19 effort
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Another leading theory remains that the virus spread from a wet market in Wuhan, where live animals were being traded for consumption and traditional medicines.
UK officials have declined to speculate.
However Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said the world must address the trade of exotic animals for consumption, or risk another pandemic.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last week insisted China must cooperate with outsiders' investigations into the origins of the pandemic.
The World Health Organisation only last week landed independent investigators in China, after months of delays.
A WHO spokesman told media last week researchers were keeping open minds, saying they believed it was possible cases of Covid-19 existed before emerging at the wet market, and the market was merely a 'spreading event.'