China has deliberately spread disinformation about coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak, according to a damning report by MPs.
People have died as a result of China withholding information about the extent of the spread of COVID-19, said the report by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
Iran and Russia have also been deliberately spreading disinformation about the outbreak, MPs warned.
The committee pointed to the case of Li Wenliang, the doctor in Wuhan who was “silenced” after he first raised the alarm about the new disease, detailing how he was forced to confess to “making false comments”.
Dr Li died from the virus in February.
“Such deliberate misleading of the WHO (World Health Organization) and scientists in other countries obscured analysis in the critical early stages of the pandemic,” the committee said.
“Disinformation about COVID-19 has already cost lives. It is essential that the Government issues clear and transparent messages at home to confront and rebut disinformation spread by foreign powers.”
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As the country where the outbreak originated and initially spread, China “should have played a central role in collecting data”, according to the report.
Instead Beijing sought to “obfuscate” over what was really happening from the beginning.
Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said Beijing had initially “allowed disinformation to spread as quickly as the virus”.
He said: “Rather than helping other countries prepare a swift and strong response, it is increasingly apparent that they manipulated vital information about the virus in order to protect the regime’s image.
“The Government needs to tackle these lies with a clear and quick response, working with our allies to show a united front in the face of false facts and deadly disinformation.”
More than 69,000 people are known to have died from coronavirus worldwide, and there are more than 1.2m confirmed cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins university.
Roughly 265,000 people are confirmed to have recovered.