China is seen as being the starting point of the pandemic, yet the country reported having ‘only’ about 3,000 deaths. An astonishing figure when you consider that the number of deaths quickly exceeded 10,000 in both Spain and Italy. This is all the more troubling since certain elements still remain unclear.
At the time of writing, according to worldometers.info, China officially has 3,318 coronavirus-related deaths out of 82,156 cases. By way of comparison, Spain has 110,238 cases and 10,003 deaths, and Italy 110,574 cases and 13,155 deaths.
It would, therefore, appear that China has managed to ‘get a grip’ on the situation, but recently several doctors have been questioning the figures provided by China.
A ‘minimised’ assessment?
In recent days, the veracity of the figures provided by the Chinese authorities has been called into question. According to Karine Lacombe, an infectiologist at the Saint-Antoine Hospital in Paris, ‘the extent of the epidemic has been minimised:’
We believe that the epidemic started much earlier in China, probably as early as September. They probably also hid the real mortality rate because 3,000 deaths, when you see what is happening in Italy and Spain, is hard to believe. The problem is that China doesn't provide the raw surveillance data of the epidemic but only aggregates of data.
But she's not the only one who has expressed her doubts. Patrick Berche, professor of microbiology and former director of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, also gave his opinion on the issue:
There was a mortality rate announced by the Chinese which, in my opinion, was certainly underestimated. It's very hard to believe that a country, even with containment measures, has so few deaths.
Did China deliberately lie?
The Chinese government has an unfortunate reputation for a lack of transparency. Dr. Li Wenliang was reprimanded by police for making the seriousness of COVID-19 known, before his death on February 7th. More recently, Chinese A&E doctor Ai Fen, head of A&E at the Wuhan Central Hospital, made the news.
In a poignant testimony, which has since been censored by the Chinese government, the doctor explained how she has been silenced since the beginning of the health crisis:
I was told not to talk to anyone, not even my husband. I felt like I had single-handedly ruined Wuhan's future. I was desperate. If my colleagues had been warned earlier, they wouldn't have died. If I had known how the epidemic would develop, I would have ignored the reprimand. I would've talked about it to everyone.
Strange funerary urn deliveries
We know that the epidemic was ‘hidden’ in its early stages in China, but what about the number of deaths? Wuhan has a population of 11 million and is the capital of a province of 60 million people. That's as many as Italy as a whole.
When you consider that the epidemic particularly affected Hubei province and that the hospitals were quickly overwhelmed by the situation, it is hard to believe that there were ‘only’ 3,308 deaths in China.
All the more so since a new element is sowing a little more confusion. With the gradual lifting of the lockdown, the people of the Wuhan region were able to collect funeral urns to pay tribute to the dead. Thousands of urns were then delivered to the city's crematoriums (far more than the supposed number of COVID-19-related deaths), and there was a wait of several hours to retrieve one.
There are disturbing indications that the figures provided by the Chinese authorities have been downplayed. But it is difficult to get concrete proof of this since it is the various countries’ health agencies who provide the figures, which are then published by the World Health Organisation.