Yet CNN can now reveal how official documents circulated internally show that this was only part of the picture.
At several critical moments in the early phase of the pandemic, the documents show evidence of clear missteps and point to a pattern of institutional failings.
Health experts said the documents laid bare why what China knew in the early months mattered.
The documents have been verified by six independent experts who examined the veracity of their content on behalf of CNN.
The documents include an internal audit, which forensic analysis shows was written in October 2019, before the pandemic began.
The documents also reveal a previously undisclosed a 20-fold spike in influenza cases recorded in one week in early December in Hubei province.
Conversely, however, the leaked documents also provide something of a defense of China's overall handling of the virus. »