The delay in reporting the spread of the disease was attributed to technological challenges, but also bureaucratic ones.
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 helping control 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 that it had been found only in people who visited a local market that sold live fish, birds and other animals, and that workers had disinfected and shut down the site.
Questions have emerged on Chinese social media about whether the Chinese government has been 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.
It was not until Monday that the government changed course, after news outlets in Hong Kong reported over the weekend that there were several potential cases of the illness in Shanghai and Shenzhen, a southern city. The central government dispatched Dr. Zhong, a renowned expert with a reputation for bluntness, to Wuhan.