Asymptomatic cases in China get more attention from authorities (but not enough to officially count)

Science & Health

xi zhejiang tour no mask

Xi Jinping appeared without a mask for portions of his tour of Anji County, Zhejiang Province, on March 30. Photo via Xinhua.

Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 visited the eastern province of Zhejiang over the weekend, occasionally appearing in public wearing no mask for the first time in months. His tour, which included a visit to an auto parts manufacturer in Ningbo (CCTV Chinese), was sending a clear message that “it’s time to get the economy back on its feet,” the South China Morning Post says.

Monetary stimulus is now flowing from the People’s Bank of China, which “cut the interest rate it charges on loans to banks by the biggest amount since 2015 [from 2.4% to 2.2%]…[in] the first cut to a PBOC policy rate since February,” Bloomberg reports via Yahoo Finance. A Politburo meeting on Friday also agreed to allow for “increasing the fiscal deficit as a share of GDP, issuing special treasury bonds, and increasing the scale of special bonds for local governments,” Caixin reports (paywall).

Mixed messages on asymptomatic cases

Right before Xi visited Zhejiang, a new COVID-19 case in the province was reported, and authorities believe the person “may have been infected by an asymptomatic traveler on a flight from Beijing to Hangzhou,” per Caixin.

“Prevention and control of asymptomatic coronavirus cases” (无症状感染者防控工作 wú zhèngzhuàng gǎnrǎnzhě fángkòng gōngzuò) is listed as a priority in the Xinhua readout (in Chinese) of a meeting chaired by Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强 today.

  • Last week, Li called more attention to asymptomatic cases, and said, “The National Health Commission should organize experts to carefully study the infectiousness of asymptomatic cases,” according to the State Council website.
  • One recent Chinese study has already indicated that asymptomatic COVID-19 patients were no less infectious than symptomatic ones, Sixth Tone reports.
  • The famous epidemiologist Zhōng Nánshān 钟南山 has downplayed asymptomatic cases, saying that while they were infectious, “I suppose we don’t have too many asymptomatic patients,” the SCMP reports.
  • “Asymptomatic people may be infecting others despite officials saying risk of this is low,” the Guardian reports, citing multiple local cases across provinces.

Asymptomatic cases are still not counted in official totals. Caixin yesterday published commentaries in English and Chinese calling for the public release of these numbers:

A commentary on the WeChat account 半月谈 bànyuètán, a publication under Xinhua, also called for increased transparency (in Chinese).

—Lucas Niewenhuis


Clarification: The original version of this write-up linked to an SCMP article headlined, ‘No evidence’ asymptomatic carriers spread coronavirus, Chinese health official claims, referring to comments by Chinese CDC official Lú Jīnxīng 卢金星.

Lu’s complete answer in the original CCTV transcript (in Chinese) makes clear he admits that in general, asymptomatic coronavirus patients can be infectious. What he said there is “no evidence” of, rather, is that any one individual with a positive COVID-19 test but no symptoms is infectious:

In a large number of samples we have done, there are indeed individuals with a relatively long detoxification cycle. As for individuals, whether they are infectious or not, we have not yet done detailed research and have no direct data to prove that they are infectious, but all in all, there are some potential risks.