Once again, your post reads as someone looking to confirm their conclusions.I‘m well aware of the benefits of 20/20 hindsight, but the health authorities' responses cannot be excused on the ground of being in the flu season. The people who were alarmed by early January were not the members of the lay public or even ordinary healthcare workers, they were respiratory and radiology specialists in some of Wuhan's top hospitals. They certainly knew what a normal or even a particularly nasty flu season looked like. Also at the end of December Wuhan health authority had already announced there were cases of pneumonia caused by an unknown virus, so at the novel part of 'completely novel and highly infectious virus' was already known. What did health authorities in Wuhan do when healthcare workers began to develop pneumonia?
Quote from the first Caixin article:
Not only were they not disclosing the infections among healthcare workers, multiple hospitals in Wuhan began to lock up CT scans of healthcare workers in the infectious disease management departments to keep them away from their colleagues in the clinical departments and only informing the infected healthcare workers personally by telephone. Caixin thought this was unlikely to be a spontaneous decision by multiple hospitals (because it's very unusual) and had to come from the health authorities. Note at the same time the hospitals were locking up evidence of healthcare workers infections in the infectious disease management departments, Wuhan health authorities were telling the public that there was no evidence for human to human transmission.
Also note that the National Health Commission required the following three individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for a diagnosis: 1. contact history with the seafood market. 2. fever. 3. genetic sequencing to demostrate the presence of the novel virus. So even if a patient had both the symptoms and the virus, they still couldn't be diagnosed if there were no contact history with the market. I could understand if they required (contact history AND symptoms) OR (symptoms AND virus), but contact history AND symptoms AND virus? I found it very difficult to explain the logic behind this except they were trying to cover up human to human transmission.
First of all, no, not even medical specialists can know about a new virus without actual data telling them so. Specialists are not fortune tellers. An "unknown virus" does NOT automatically mean a new virus! It just means a virus that has not been identified. Each type of virus needs a specific test to be identified, and each test requires time to complete, often days. When faced with an unidentified virus, doctors need to narrow down the list of possible candidates based on their diagnosis and order the tests for the shortlisted candidates. In order to confirm that the virus is completely new, they would have needed to eliminate all other possibilities. This takes time!
Second of all, limiting access to private, personal, health information, and only informing the person involved, is the normal and expected practice of most developed nations, and one of the primary reason for upholding this right to privacy is precisely because people can be discriminated against based on their medical conditions. When faced with rumors of a new SARS outbreak, it is perfectly reasonable to step up the handling of private information in order to prevent any panic and discrimination among the healthcare staff. Think about it for a minute: if you were infected with COVID-19 right now, would you want your boss and your colleagues to find out before you did?
Third, the presence of lung infection among healthcare workers is still not a smoking gun for a novel virus. CT scans do not reveal the genetic sequence of the pathogen. Those healthcare workers could have been infected by any number of infectious diseases that normally circulates during flu season. Healthcare authorities need to make decisions based on data, and there simply wasn't enough data at the time to determine the presence of a completely new and highly infectious virus.
Finally, I am no health expert, and perhaps @manqiangrexue, @vesicles, or @Bltizo can provide more info, but it seems to me that location is necessary to establish the presence of an actual outbreak. You could have a group of people showing similar symptoms and testing positive for the same virus, but if they caught it because they were eating, just as an example, the same brand of contaminated food, then that would have very different implications than if they were all visiting the same market! Remember that at the time, they had no idea how the virus was transmitted. In any case, the doctor quoted in the article stated that it wasn't the location that was difficult to obtain, it was the genetic sequencing. I think it's pretty obvious that genetic sequencing is necessary to establish the presence of a new virus.