Health

How many people have REALLY been infected with Covid-19 in China?

China suffered ten times more flu cases than average at the end of 2019, according to suspicious figures that cast more doubt over the true scale of the country’s Covid-19 crisis. 

Data published by Chinese officials show 1.2million cases of influenza were recorded in December – up from 130,000 in the same month the year before. 

Analysts who spotted the figures fear the ‘explosion’ of flu – which can cause a fever and cough, the two tell-tale signs of coronavirus – may be down to the ‘undetected spread’ of coronavirus. 

Beijing health chiefs first warned of a mysterious disease, now known as Covid-19, on December 31 after 40 patients were struck down with pneumonia. The virus spread to Thailand just a fortnight later.

Questions have repeatedly been raised about the accuracy of China’s Covid-19 data, with cases of the disease tracked back to November and studies suggesting the real death toll is much higher than official data shows. 

One study published this week claimed China’s real Covid-19 death toll could be 14 times higher than figures given by Beijing, with US researchers estimating 36,000 people had died in Wuhan alone by March 23.

Fresh concerns about the accuracy of China’s data emerged this week on the back of a spike in coronavirus cases in the capital, which went almost two months without a single infection. 

People are tested for coronavirus by medical workers wearing hazmat suits at a makeshift testing centre in Beijing yesterday

People are tested for coronavirus by medical workers wearing hazmat suits at a makeshift testing centre in Beijing yesterday 

CHINESE OFFICIALS HID SARS OUTBREAK FOR FOUR MONTHS IN 2002 

China’s government has insisted it is being transparent about the Covid-19 outbreak there and a World Health Organization mission early on in the epidemic was satisfied that Beijing was telling the truth, but the company has form for covering up disease outbreaks.

When the first cases of the almost-identical SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), first popped up in China in November 2002, the government hid it for three months.

It was not until late January 2003 that officials classified the disease’s spread as a potential outbreak and not until mid-February that they announced it publicly.

By the time it was contained in May 2004, 8,098 people had been made ill by the virus and 774 people had died.

China promised to be more transparent but messages coming out of Wuhan in March were oddly reminiscent of past actions.

Early reports said the first case was diagnosed on December 31 but studies have since suggested that the first cases of the virus were circulating as early as October 2019.

At the start, officials insisted the condition was ‘mild’, ‘under control’ and was not being transmitted between humans.

Even Wang Guangfa, a top government respiratory expert, who told the media on January 10 that the Wuhan outbreak was ‘preventable and controllable,’ contracted the virus.

And other cities in mainland China didn’t reveal they had cases until Hong Kong news media reported that cases of the virus had been confirmed in its region. 

China’s huge spike in influenza cases at the end of 2019 was flagged by Taiwanese consultancy group SindoInsider, The Times reports. 

It pointed to data released by the nation’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

SindoInsider claimed Chinese health officials then stopped providing flu updates on December 27, four days before Covid-19 cases were first reported.

The report said: ‘We have reasons to believe that the uncharacteristic explosion of flu cases in December may be due to the undetected spread of the coronavirus.

‘We estimate that tens of thousands of people could have been infected with Covid-19 by the end of December.’

A separate study released this week suggested China covered up the true size of its epidemic, after calculating deaths based on the activity of crematoriums in Wuhan.

Wuhan crematoriums were operating 24 hours a day at full capacity during the peak of the crisis, according to reports analysed by the researchers. 

They estimated Wuhan was burning up to 2,000 bodies a day by the second week of February, when the official death toll for the whole of China was only 700. 

And they suggested by March 23 – when the UK went into lockdown – around 36,000 people had died in Wuhan alone. China’s official toll at the time was 2,524.

Beijing states there have now been 4,634 deaths from Covid-19 across the country, less than a tenth of the total number of fatalities seen in the UK. 

Figures show 98 per cent of recorded coronavirus fatalities have occurred in Hubei province, which Wuhan is the capital of.  

China has come under regular scrutiny during the pandemic for reporting such low numbers of cases and deaths. 

US President Donald Trump called out the World Health Organization (WHO) in April over not forcing China to reveal more data.

He said had the WHO ‘done its job’, the pandemic – which has killed 450,000 people worldwide – could have been contained at its source ‘with very little death’.

The WHO investigators who did go to China in the early stages of the outbreak said they were satisfied that Beijing was telling the truth about what was happening. 

Beijing is now reporting a sudden surge in coronavirus cases and 21million have had lockdown rules reimposed on them in a desperate bit to halt a second wave. 

There had reportedly been no cases in almost two months until this happened, but scientists remain sceptical about what is really happening. 

China today pointed the finger at a European coronavirus strain for a new outbreak in Beijing.

Beijing yesterday shared the genome data from the latest outbreak, claiming it ‘came from Europe’.

But it is different from the virus that is currently spreading there – suggesting it could have been lurking in frozen food for some time.

European salmon producers have played down the link after state media linked the outbreak to chopping boards used to cut up salmon at the Xinfadi food market. 

SATELLITE IMAGES OF HOSPITAL TRAFFIC SUGGEST WUHAN OUTBREAK BEGAN IN SUMMER 

A surge in road traffic outside Wuhan hospitals at the end of last summer – coupled with an increase in internet searches for coronavirus-like symptoms – suggests Covid-19 could have hit China before autumn. 

A study from Harvard Medical School led by Dr John Brownstein analysed commercial satellite imagery.

His team ‘observed a dramatic increase in hospital traffic outside five major Wuhan hospitals beginning late summer and early fall 2019’.

He said the traffic surge ‘coincided’ with a rise in internet searches for symptoms that are ‘closely associated’ with coronavirus, ABC News reported.

A graph of the data shows the number of cars began to increase in August and peaked in December before falling when lockdown was introduced. 

The satellite images analysed by Dr John Brownstein's team at Harvard Medical School found that there were 506 cars at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in October 2018

The satellite images analysed by Dr John Brownstein’s team at Harvard Medical School found that there were 506 cars at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in October 2018 

The same aerial shot a year later reveals that this figure rose to 640 cars - which is a jump of more than 26 per cent

The same aerial shot a year later reveals that this figure rose to 640 cars – which is a jump of more than 26 per cent 

Officials in China did not formally notify the World Health Organization until 31 December that a respiratory pathogen was spreading through Wuhan, a move the government has been heavily criticised for.

At the time Wuhan officials said a ‘cluster’ of pneumonia cases had been recorded in the city.

But US intelligence reported that problem was sweeping through Wuhan to the Pentagon back in November, sources told ABC.

Brownstein said his research looked at the pictures to try and assess patterns of behaviour among communities that could help explain the source of the virus.

His team counted cars at hospitals across 108 private satellite images.

He said ‘parking lots will get full as a hospital gets busy. So more cars in a hospital, the hospital’s busier, likely because something’s happening in the community, an infection is growing and people have to see a doctor’.

Brownstein said his results were ‘pointing to something taking place in Wuhan at the time’.

He said that on 10 October 2019 there were 285 cars parked at Wuhan’s Tianyou Hospital – 67 per cent more than the 171 recorded that same day a year earlier.

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