China is accused of hiding the findings of a coronavirus expert - known as "Bat Woman" - after she quickly identified the genetic make-up of the new strain that has infected millions.
Wuhan-based virologist Shi Zhengli (pictured) is one of the world's top researchers on coronaviruses and has discovered dozens of deadly SARS-like viruses in bat caves.
She studied samples taken from some of the first people to become infected with the new and then-mysterious respiratory illness in China in December and found it was similar to SARS.
It was identified as a novel coronavirus and within three days she completed its gene sequencing, but it is claimed she was "muzzled" and ordered not to reveal any information about the new disease.
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The claims are the latest that point to a cover-up by Chinese authorities who failed to contain a virus that emerged in Wuhan and then spread around the world.
Chinese journalist Gao Yu said he spoke to Shi during his incarceration in Wuhan, which was locked down for more than two months, and she told him her findings were hushed up, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The journalist added: "We learned later her institute finished gene-sequencing and related tests as early as January 2 but was muzzled."
That same day, Yanyi Wang, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told staff not to reveal any information about the disease, it is claimed.
After local doctors were detained for warning locals about the virus, the director claimed "inappropriate and inaccurate information" was causing "general panic".
She ordered staff not to post any information on social media or speak to the media.
Just over a week later, a team in Shanghai published a sequence on an open access platform after studying samples from an infected patient.
Their laboratory was shut for "rectification" two days later.
Life is slowly starting to return to normal in Wuhan after its lockdown was lifted after more than 70 days.
China is now stepping up screening of inbound foreigners and tightening border control after the number of single-day imported coronavirus cases set a record, helping double the daily number of newly detected infections.
New confirmed cases in mainland China reached 99 on Saturday from 46 the previous day, with all but two involving travellers from abroad.
In Shanghai, 51 Chinese nationals flying in on the same flight from Russia tested positive.
"The risk of imported cases has increased dramatically," Wen Guohui, mayor of Guangzhou, an economic hub in Southern China, told a news conference.
Guangzhou is enforcing anti-virus measures on anyone who enters the city from across the national border, regardless of nationality, race or gender, foreign affairs official Liu Baochun said at the same event.
"We hope foreigners can strictly abide by anti-virus rules as Chinese do," he said.