Authorities in Wuhan and Hubei provinces have been criticised for downplaying the severity of the outbreak and responding more slowly than they could have. The Beijing-based media journal, Caixin noted that Hubei did not roll out the first level of "public health emergency response mechanism" until 24 January, while several other provinces and cities outside the centre of the outbreak have already done so the day before.
On 19 January, four days before the city's lockdown, a wan jia yan (Chinese: 万家宴; literally: 'ten-thousand family banquet') was held in Wuhan, with over 40,000 families turning out; this attracted retrospective criticism. The domestic The Beijing News argued that the local authorities should not have held such a public assembly while attempting to control the outbreak. The paper also stated that when their journalists visited the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where the coronavirus likely originated, most residents and merchants there were not wearing face masks. Zhou Xianwang, the mayor of Wuhan, later spoke to China Central Television, explaining that the banquet was held annually, that it is a "sample of the people's self-autonomy," and that the decision was made based on the fact that scientists then wrongly believed that the virus's ability to spread between humans was limited. Meanwhile, on 20 January, Wuhan's municipal department for culture and tourism gave out 200,000 tickets valid for visiting all tourist attractions in Wuhan to its citizens for free. The department was later criticised for disregarding the outbreak.