Wuhan revises its death toll up 50 percent

Science & Health

The Wuhan government today released a statement (via Xinhua in English, in Chinese) saying that it was revising its data on the COVID-19 outbreak in the city. The number of cases was revised up by 325 to 50,333, and the number of deaths was increased by 1,290 to 3,869. The statement lists four reasons for the revision, in short:

  • Medical facilities were not able to admit all patients, so some “died at home without having been treated in hospitals.”
  • Medical staff were “preoccupied” with treating patients, which resulted in “belated, missed and mistaken reporting.”
  • Some medical institutions “were not linked to the epidemic information network and failed to report their data in time.”
  • Incomplete data on some patients, which resulted in “repetitions and mistakes in the reporting.”

“Experts say the revisions are not unusual,” the New York Times reports (porous paywall). “Many countries are probably underreporting their official tallies of infections and deaths, in part because of problems with testing and the speed with which the virus has overwhelmed public health care systems.”

However, there is almost certainly a political element to the extent and timing of this revision. The New York Times cites an interview (in Chinese) with an “unidentified official from Wuhan’s epidemic command center [who] said that revising the figures was important for protecting the ‘credibility of the government.’”

The fact that the increase was almost exactly 50% in the death toll in Wuhan also seems a little too round to be true data.

More China-related COVID-19 updates:

“Tian Xi says he still can’t get the sound of the screams out of his head.” That’s the first line of a South China Morning Post article from two reporters on the ground in Wuhan. “On the street, Wuhan residents reserved their criticism for the mistreatment of early whistle-blowers, as well as the lack of credibility of lower-level government officials, while raising broader issues of transparency and accountability.”

Wuhan has started “testing for antibodies among thousands of people returning to work, and others without symptoms, to gain a clearer picture of immunity levels in the city and try to prevent a second wave of disease,” the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall).

On the outskirts of Wuhan, “the spring harvest has become a desperate race against time,” according to Sixth Tone. “We have to make full use of every second to dig out as many lotus roots as we can…If we fail, we’ll lose even more,” a farmer said.

“China’s efforts to find drug treatments for COVID-19 are being hampered by a lack of suitable candidates,” the SCMP reports. Top Chinese epidemiologist Zhōng Nánshān 钟南山 reportedly said, “Many studies were cancelled because no one expected that China would control the epidemic so quickly…now there is no opportunity for large-scale clinical drug or treatment research in China.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis