Wuhan revises COVID-19 death toll by 50% but China denies cover-up


Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak began in late 2019, has revised its death toll by 50%, admitting that a further 1,290 people have died after contracting the virus, but Chinese authorities denies that it covered up the figures.

A local government taskforce charged with virus prevention revised the figure to the city’s toll, taking the confirmed count to 3,869 from a previously reported 2,579.

The city of 11 million people suffered more fatalities than any other city in China as residents struggled to get help from its overwhelmed medical system.

The revision comes after scepticism, from both within and outside China, over the officially reported figures. Officials said Friday’s revision was the result of incorrect or delayed reporting and not because information had been suppressed.

“Medical workers at some facilities might have been preoccupied with saving lives and there existed delayed reporting, underreporting or misreporting, but there has never been any cover-up and we do not allow cover-ups,” said China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a news briefing in Beijing.

While China appears to have overcome the worst of the virus, reporting only 26 new confirmed cases, its lowest daily total in two weeks, the country is grappling with the aftermath of almost three months of nationwide paralysis.

On Friday, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed the Chinese economy shrank 6.8% in the first three months of 2020, the first such contraction since 1976 when the country was convulsed by the Cultural Revolution.

The decline, lower than analysts had expected, foreshadows the global economic fallout from the pandemic. The virus has now infected more than 2 million people globally and killed more than 140,000. China has reported 82,367 infections and 4,632 deaths across the country.

As other countries struggle with the virus, Beijing has faced mounting criticism that it suppressed early information about the outbreak, allowing the virus to spread. On Thursday, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, hit back in a phone call with Vladimir Putin, after Donald Trump criticised China for not sharing data more quickly.

Without referring directly to the White House, Xi said politicising the pandemic was “detrimental to international cooperation”, according to state-run news agency Xinhua. The agency reported that the Russian president said “attempts by some people to smear China” were “unacceptable”.

Washington has said it is investigating the origins of the coronavirus, including the possibility it escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, close to a seafood market where the first cluster of cases was reported.

Even as Chinese authorities over the past month have pushed to restart the economy, fears of new infections have forced some parts of the country to enact further restrictions. China has closed its borders to almost all foreigners arriving from abroad and limited international flights.

As the number of new infections in Wuhan has dropped, the city has come out of its lockdown and residents have begun picking up the cremated remains of their relatives. Photos of thousands of urns being delivered to families prompted speculation on social media about the real number of deaths, and many residents doubt the government reported figures. (Source: The Guardian)