- The US intelligence community has determined that the Chinese government concealed the extent of its coronavirus outbreak and gave false statistics to other countries, Bloomberg News reported, citing three US officials.
- Officials transmitted a classified report of their findings to the White House last week.
- Bloomberg described its sources as saying that the report’s main conclusion was that China’s public reporting of coronavirus cases was “intentionally incomplete” and that its numbers were fake.
- China was the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak until last week, when the US’s number of cases surpassed China’s.
- US and other Western officials have repeatedly expressed scepticism about China’s numbers. Residents of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, have also publicly doubted the government’s reporting.
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The US intelligence community has determined that the Chinese government concealed the extent of its coronavirus outbreak and gave false numbers of cases and deaths in the country, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday, citing three US officials.
Intelligence officials transmitted a classified report of their findings to the White House last week. Bloomberg described its sources as saying that the report’s main conclusion was that China’s public reporting of coronavirus cases was “intentionally incomplete.” Two officials told the outlet that it found that China’s numbers were fake.
China was the centre of the novel coronavirus outbreak until last week, when the US’s number of cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, surpassed China’s. The World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic on March 11.
As of Wednesday, more than 885,000 people across the globe had been infected and more than 44,000 had died. China had reported 82,361 confirmed cases and 3,316 deaths, according to a database from Johns Hopkins University. The US had reported 190,089 positive cases and 4,102 deaths.
The outbreak originated late last year in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. As more and more people got sick, China’s communist government implemented strict lockdowns and ordered residents to stay inside while officials raced to contain the spread of the virus.
Bloomberg reported that there had been significant doubt about the reported coronavirus statistics from the Chinese government, which had repeatedly changed its methodology to track cases.
For instance, the Bloomberg report said, Chinese officials for weeks excluded asymptomatic people from the positive-cases count and revised that measure only on Tuesday, adding more than 1,500 cases to its total.
US officials have repeatedly accused China of covering up information about its coronavirus cases and of spreading misinformation. China was “the first country to know about the risk to the world from this virus,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a news briefing last week, “and they repeatedly delayed sharing that information with the globe.”
“This data set matters,” Pompeo reiterated on Tuesday, adding that the strategy for combatting the virus “depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired.”
Chinese officials have pushed back on the allegations. Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman, said after Pompeo’s comments last week that China had been transparent and shared accurate information with the US and other countries.
Dr. Deborah Birx, a State Department immunologist and one of the faces of the White House’s coronavirus task force, also suggested on Tuesday that there was a discrepancy between the numbers China reported and its actual cases.
She said the medical community used China’s data to gauge the scope of the outbreak, initially concluding that it was “serious, but smaller than anyone expected.” But “I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data,” she said, “now that we see what happened to Italy and we see what happened to Spain.”
Reuters reported on Sunday that almost a week had passed since a coronavirus case was reported in Wuhan, as new cases flatten across China. But some Wuhan residents have said they think government officials have not accurately counted the deaths.
A truck driver in Wuhan told the magazine Caixin that he delivered about 5,000 urns to a single funeral home over two days last week, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.
A photo in Caixin’s report, according to the Post, “purportedly showed 3,500 urns stacked on the floor of the funeral home.”
The official death toll in Wuhan “can’t be right … because the incinerators have been working round the clock,” one resident who identified himself by his surname, Zhang, told Radio Free Asia last week.
“So how can so few people have died?” Zhang asked.
Radio Free Asia described some people as saying on social media that Wuhan’s funeral homes were “handing out 3,500 urns every day.” Insider could not independently verify the outlet’s reporting, but Radio Free Asia said that at that rate, about “42,000 urns would be given out” from March 23 to April 5, when a traditional grave-tending festival begins.
Another resident who identified himself by his surname, Mao, also said he thought the official death toll was wrong.
“Maybe the authorities are gradually releasing the real figures, intentionally or unintentionally, so that people will gradually come to accept the reality,” Mao told Radio Free Asia.
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