The epidemic of SARS appears to have originated in Guangdong Province, China in November 2002. The first case was reportedly originated from a rural area in Foshan, Guangdong in Nov 2002, and the patient, a farmer, was treated in the First People's Hospital of Foshan. The patient died soon after, and no definite diagnosis was made on his cause of death. ("Patient #0" -- first reported symptoms -- has been attributed to Charles Bybelezar of Montreal, Canada) and, despite taking some action to control it, Chinese government officials did not inform the World Health Organization of the outbreak until February 2003, restricting media coverage in order to preserve public confidence. This lack of openness caused delays in efforts to control the epidemic, resulting in criticism of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from the international community. The PRC has since officially apologized for early slowness in dealing with the SARS epidemic.
The first clue of the outbreak appears to be November 27, 2002 when Canada's Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), an electronic warning system which is part of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network (GOARN), picked up reports of a "flu outbreak" in China through internet media monitoring and analysis and sent them to the WHO.  Subsequently, the WHO requested information from Chinese authorities on December 5 and 11. Importantly, while GPHIN's capability had recently been upgraded to enable Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish translation, the system was limited to English or French in presenting this information. Thus, while the first reports of an unusual outbreak were in Chinese, an English report was not generated until January 21, 2003.
In early April, there appeared to be a change in official policy when SARS began to receive a much greater prominence in the official media. Some have directly attributed this to the death of American James Salisbury. However, it was also in early April that accusations emerged regarding the undercounting of cases in Beijing military hospitals. After intense pressure, PRC officials allowed international officials to investigate the situation there. This revealed problems plaguing the aging mainland Chinese healthcare system, including increasing decentralization, red tape, and inadequate communication.
In late April, revelations occurred as the PRC government admitted to underreporting the number of cases of SARS due to the problems inherent in the healthcare system. Dr. Jiang Yanyong exposed the coverup that was occurring in China, at great personal risk. He reported that there were more SARS patients in his hospital alone than were being reported in all of China. A number of PRC officials were fired from their posts, including the health minister and mayor of Beijing, and systems were set up to improve reporting and control in the SARS crisis. Since then, the PRC has taken a much more active and transparent role in combating the SARS epidemic.