The Test a Deadly Coronavirus Outbreak Poses to China’s Leadership

The delay in reporting the spread of the disease was attributed to technological but also bureaucratic challenges. Some hospitals lacked testing kits, according to remarks on Monday by Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a prominent scientist who is leading a government-appointed panel of experts assisting in controlling the outbreak. The process was also slowed down, he said, because local hospitals were required to submit cases to the central health commission in Beijing for review before going public.

For weeks, the authorities in Wuhan seemed to play down the threat posed by the virus. The health department said it had only been found in people who visited a local market that had sold live fish, birds and other animals, and that workers had disinfected and shut down the site.

As cases began to appear overseas, involving travelers from Thailand and Japan who had visited Wuhan but had not all visited the market, questions emerged on Chinese social media about whether the government was being forthcoming. Many articles and posts, including some using the hashtag #WuhanSARS, were censored.

After his stepmother died of viral pneumonia last week, Kyle Hui, 32, an architect from Shanghai, turned to Weibo, a Twitterlike site, to report her case. Mr. Hui’s stepmother was never formally tested for the virus, and he was concerned that the Wuhan government was underreporting cases of the illness. But his post soon disappeared from the internet.

“People accuse me of spreading rumors, but I’m just trying to tell my stepmother’s story,” he said in an interview at a cafe in Wuhan.

Even as the authorities came under attack, they doubled down on their approach. At one point, in an apparent effort to dispel rumors that the virus had spread to other mainland cities, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement saying that the virus did not resemble SARS.