Beijing-based enterprise correspondent Dake Kang used sourcing and documents to reveal that early in the coronavirus outbreak, widespread test shortages and other testing problems in China were caused largely by cronyism and a lack of transparency at the top disease control agency, including secret deals made with testing companies.
Through interviews with more than 40 people and hundreds of documents he obtained, Kang traced the problems back to secret deals that China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention made with three then-unknown companies with which officials had personal ties, giving the companies exclusive rights to the test kit design and distribution. Kang’s sources even had the price the companies paid to China’s CDC: 1 million RMB ($146,600) each.
The shortages and flaws in the kits meant that thousands of people either didn't get tested or tested false negative; they were sent home to spread the virus while scientists and officials were unable to see how fast the virus was spreading.
The level of detail in Kang’s story would be impressive anywhere, but is extraordinary coming from China which has tried to cover up its missteps. The story was also carefully balanced in its portrayal of China, pointing out that many other countries made similar mistakes.
The story was widely praised, with experts and journalists calling it “very impressive,” “amazing,” “fantastic,” “vital, damning” and “another blockbuster AP report on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in January.” As one journalism professor put it, “We are now all paying the price” for the testing shortcomings.