UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is said to be furious over China's handling of the novel coronavirus, with one British official quoted on Sunday saying Beijing would face a "reckoning" once the COVID-19 crisis was over.
UK government officials are accusing China of spreading disinformation about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in its borders, the Mail on Sunday reports.
The newspaper says scientists have told Johnson that China could have downplayed its number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus "by a factor of 15 to 40 times." China had reported 81,439 cases at the time of writing.
On Sunday, March 29, Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove told the BBC he was skeptical of the China numbers. "It was the case … [that] the first case of coronavirus in China was established in December of last year, but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this," he said.
The Chinese government has disclosed only 3,304 deaths from coronavirus. Yet funeral homes in Wuhan have disposed of an estimated 42,000 corpses, according to Radio Free Asia.
Officials also apparently believe China is trying to expand its economic power through offering help to other countries that are trying to combat the virus.
The newspaper quoted three UK officials, who all reported fury within Johnson's government.
"It is going to be back to the diplomatic drawing board after this," one said. "Rethink is an understatement."
The second unnamed official said "there has to be a reckoning when this is over," while the third said "the anger goes right to the top."
The newspaper added that Johnson's government was so angry with China's handling of the crisis that the prime minister could abandon his decision to let the Chinese telecoms company Huawei develop the UK's 5G wireless network.
Johnson angered his main ally, President Donald Trump, by giving Huawei a limited but significant role in improving the country's wireless infrastructure.
The Trump administration was angered by the decision, with the president himself reportedly expressing his disapproval before hanging up in an "apoplectic" phone call with Johnson last month.
The decision also riled swathes of lawmakers in Johnson's Conservative Party.
"We can't stand by and allow the Chinese state's desire for secrecy to ruin the world's economy and then come back like nothing has happened," one Cabinet minister quoted by the Mail on Sunday said.
"We're allowing companies like Huawei not just into our economy, but to be a crucial part of our infrastructure. This needs to be reviewed urgently, as does any strategically important infrastructure that relies on Chinese supply chains."
Johnson has written to every UK household urging people to continue following strict social-distancing rules.
In the letter, expected to reach Brits in the next few days, the prime minister, who this week tested positive for the coronavirus, said things would "get worse before they get better."
"But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal," he said.
The prime minister last week introduced a national lockdown, telling people to leave their homes only for essential reasons and giving the UK police the power to fine those who do not comply.