As new cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge in the U.S., major media outlets continue to report that the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, has no new cases of the disease.
It is necessary, of course, for reporters tracking the coronavirus to report on Chinese case data. Given that COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, following the spread and mitigation of the disease in China is an important component of understanding how to manage its spread elsewhere, including here at home.
But the credulity that outlets are giving China’s reported numbers is something else entirely. Here’s just a sampling of how U.S. media are reporting the country’s data on new cases.
Axios: “No new cases in Wuhan, global numbers pass 724k . . . China’s city of Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus was discovered, reported no new cases for a sixth straight day. There was a decline in infections for a fourth consecutive day across mainland China.”
NPR: “From March 18-22, the Chinese city of Wuhan reported no new cases of the virus through domestic transmission — that is, infection passed on from one person to another. The achievement was seen as a turning point in efforts to contain the virus.”
Reuters: “China ramped up efforts on Monday to heal the world’s second-biggest economy as health authorities reported a further drop in new coronavirus cases, although the country remains wary of carriers of the disease coming from abroad and infected people who exhibit no symptoms. The city of Wuhan, the source of the pandemic, reported no new cases for a sixth day, as businesses reopened and residents set about reclaiming a more normal life after a lockdown of almost two months.”
New York Times: “China on Thursday reported no new local infections for the first time since the coronavirus crisis began three months ago, reaching a milestone in its battle with the deadly outbreak that has upended daily life and economic activity around the world.”
None of these articles bothers to mention how deeply unreliable the Chinese government is and how, as a result, its self-reported numbers on new cases should be taken with something close to a pound of salt.
Chinese government officials have spent the last several weeks pushing the propaganda that the U.S. military brought the coronavirus to mainland China, when in fact the disease has only spread globally to the extent it has because China spent precious time initially covering up the outbreak in Wuhan.
There are reports here and there that doctors and citizen journalists in China who attempt to set the record straight about how the government mishandled the outbreak have been swiftly disappeared. 60 Minutes Australia is now reporting that Ai Fen, head of emergency at Wuhan Central Hospital, has vanished after attempting to publicize how the government botched its response.
Meanwhile, late last week, Radio Free Asia reported that, estimating from cremation numbers and urns returned to families, the real number of deaths from the coronavirus in Wuhan could be as many as 20 times higher than what the government reported.
Reporting on COVID-19 infections in China is crucial, but the country’s numbers simply can’t be taken at face value, and they shouldn’t be reported without acknowledging the reasons we have to mistrust what the Chinese government tells the world.