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Chinese scientists knew about the coronavirus and its deadly effects as early as December — but were ordered by government officials to suppress the evidence, a report by the Sunday Times of London has claimed

Citing Chinese business news site Caixin Global, the report said in late December, several genomics companies tested samples from sick patients in Wuhan — the center of the coronavirus outbreak — and noticed alarming similarities between their illnesses and the 2002 SARS virus

The researchers alerted Beijing of their findings — and on Jan. 3, received a gag order from China’s National Health Commission, with instructions to destroy the samples.

News of the virus’ highly contagious nature didn’t surface publicly until Jan. 20. Wuhan was locked down and a mass quarantine ordered three days later.

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