China Tacitly Admits It's Been Underreporting Coronavirus Cases All Along


Last week, the Media Resource Center released a study that found one-fifth of stories dealing with the coronavirus on nightly network newscasts in the U.S. used statistics from the Chinese government. Rather stunningly, 97 percent of the time, these statistics went unchallenged.

The study found only one mention, for instance, of the fact that China had covered up the extent of the SARS epidemic in 2002-03, which was caused by a related coronavirus. Only one mention of the fact that the Beijing government had censored information about the new coronavirus from appearing in Hong Kong. There has been little questioning of the accuracy of the numbers being presented to the world.

This could have been important context, particularly when you consider that new numbers confirm China’s been underreporting novel coronavirus cases all along — and that’s not even counting claims that the death toll in the Chinese city of Wuhan could be exponentially higher than Beijing had reported.

According to The Daily Caller, China’s National Health Commission revealed Wednesday via Chinese state media that the government hasn’t been reporting patients who have tested positive for coronavirus but are asymptomatic.

“From April 1, we will publish reports, outcomes and management of asymptomatic people in daily epidemic notifications, and respond to social concerns in a timely manner,” commission head Chang Jile said on China Central Television, the Daily Caller reported.

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China says it’s currently monitoring 1,541 cases that are asymptomatic, according to The Daily Caller. In addition to that, government data obtained by the South China Morning Post and published March 22 found that China didn’t report 43,000 asymptomatic carriers that tested positive in February.

It’s unclear whether asymptomatic carriers can pass on the disease to others. The World Health Organization says that it’s “extremely rare” while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reported transmission from silent carriers. It’s also unclear how this jibes with Beijing’s claims that there’ve been no new infections in the hardest-hit areas of the country.

On Feb. 7, Beijing changed its reporting guidelines on the novel coronavirus so that only cases showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, are counted in their total.

Reporting guidelines vary worldwide. In a country like South Korea, where the tests are freely available, all cases are reported. In countries like Italy and the United States, meanwhile, the tests are usually used on those who are already showing symptoms. In China, according to China Beige Book chief economist Derek Scissors, the numbers are problematic because Beijing isn’t deploying testing throughout the country.

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“There’s been no mass testing, which means the numbers should not compared to the United States, where we are now doing, late, mass testing,” he told CNBC on Monday.

The fact that the Chinese government is just starting to report asymptomatic carriers, “more than two months after they applied a quarantine,” is “a good sign of what the Chinese have been doing ’til now,” Scissors said.

“Add to the fact that we know the [Chinese Communist] Party is not honest about anything that’s politically sensitive.”

Oficially, the number of cases in China has stayed almost entirely level throughout the month of March at 80,000 cases, more or less. The Chinese had reported 3,316 deaths as of Wednesday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Almost all of those have been in Hubei Province, home to Wuhan, the original epicenter of the virus.

However, that’s if these numbers are to be believed — and anecdotal reports out of Hubei cast serious doubt on whether the death toll is really that low.

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According to a Radio Free Asia report Friday, there are seven large funeral homes that serve the city of Wuhan and its surrounding area. Residents told Radio Free Asia the homes have been releasing the cremated remains of about 500 corpses a day to families, a number that suggests a far higher death total than the 3,000 deaths in Hubei that are in the official account.

Estimates put the number of urns being delivered to funeral homes at upwards of 40,000. Estimates involving furnace activity at the funeral homes put cremations at roughly 46,8000, Radio Free Asia reported.

“It can’t be right … because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?” a resident identified as Zhang told Radio Free Asia.

That’s some very crude modeling and it’s unclear how Radio Free Asia was able to check these numbers to see whether they were even in the ballpark, so caveat lector. However, depending on the accuracy of these anecdotal reports, they could indicate a dramatic shift in the coronavirus numbers and call into question virtually everything else about China’s response and reporting.

When 97 percent of U.S. coverage on nightly newscasts is completely uncritical toward the Beijing regime, that’s an appalling situation. This is a country that covered up the existence of the virus, then instituted an oppressive crackdown to stop transmission.

It now demands plaudits for these policies, despite the fact that a study reported by the independent, nonprofit Hong Kong Free Press estimated that 95 percent of coronavirus cases could have been prevented had China moved quickly to prevent the disease from spreading.

And make no mistake, Beijing is trying really hard to get those plaudits through its propaganda channels, accusing the West of xenophobia while spreading innuendoes that maybe the virus was actually introduced into China by the United States. Both are preposterous on face — and it’s worth noting, in the face of Beijing’s racism claims, that the Chinese people have suffered more than anyone because of the Communist Party’s mismanagement.

We can’t trust China’s numbers, methods or government. Not 97 percent of the time. Not even 1 percent.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture