China continues to provide incomplete information to rest of the world about the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, even as countries scramble to control the spread of the illness and groan under the economic toll of the pandemic.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a classified report earlier this month that China deliberately provided incomplete public numbers for coronavirus cases and deaths resulting from the infection.
European countries that have been hit particularly hard by the outbreak, such as Italy and Spain, have far surpassed China’s case numbers despite having smaller populations, raising further suspicions that China is underreporting its numbers. China’s numbers also mysteriously correspond to political events, such as the replacement of local communist party officials, The Economist found.
A study by Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute used a conservative model to estimate that the total number of cases in China is closer to 2.9 million, far exceeding the 82,000 the Chinese government claims.
“Other than the outbreak site of Hubei, Chinese provinces not only top the list of best-performing areas in limiting Covid, they do so by a huge margin. Yet hundreds of thousands of people, if not over one million, left Hubei for those other provinces before the quarantine and circulated freely for weeks,” Scissors told National Review. “All the mistakes other countries made, China made first, before it imposed harsh, effective restrictions. And its population is 20 times larger than countries reporting far more cases.”
China’s figures should raise eyebrows when compared to the numbers reported by other countries hit by the outbreak, and the country’s reporting could be harmful in the long run as countries look to the world’s second largest economy in hopes of predicting how the pandemic will play out, Scissors cautioned.
“China should be the leading example for the world,” Scissors said. “Obviously, it’s the first affected country but its size and diversity also mean smaller countries should be able to find different parts of China to match their own experiences. Instead, the provinces report nonsense, such as Jiangsu with zero deaths in a population of 80 million. The lessons China learned are all wasted, even harmful if decision-makers elsewhere believe China is offering accurate information and represents a model.”
In addition to misreporting basic statistics, Beijing has also delayed the global response by spinning self-serving narratives about the origin of the outbreak, refusing to provide live samples of the virus to American researchers working to develop a vaccine, and stifling its own researchers.
In December, local and national officials issued a gag order to labs in Wuhan after scientists there identified a new viral pneumonia, ordering them to halt tests, destroy samples, and conceal the news.
Wuhan doctor Ai Fen, who expressed early concerns about the coronavirus to the media, was reported missing earlier this month and is believed detained by Chinese authorities. Fen, the head of emergency at Wuhan Central Hospital, was given a warning after she disseminated information about the coronavirus to several other doctors. She recounted the reprimand in an essay titled, “The one who supplied the whistle,” which was published in China’s People (Renwu) magazine. The article has since been removed.