The United States is now the coronavirus hotspot of the world, with 228,000 confirmed cases and over 5,300 reported deaths. In contrast, China, the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, has reported 81,000 cases and 3,300 deaths. While China made outstanding efforts to contain the outbreak in Wuhan and the larger Hubei province, many have suspected that the government has been heavily downplaying the numbers.
Bloomberg reported on April 1st that the U.S. intelligence services have evidence that China has intentionally misreported their cases and fatalities due to COVID-19. The conclusion is supposedly in a classified report sent to the White House last week, according to three U.S. officials.
According to Bloomberg’s sources, without giving too much detail, the report suggests that China’s numbers regarding the COVID-19 situation are fake.
“Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side, and I’m being nice when I say that,” President Trump said at a daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on Wednesday.
This is a serious accusation. Much of the rest of the world has looked to China in good faith when the coronavirus outbreak was just starting, measuring the seriousness of the situation from the Chinese authorities’ reports.
The fact that China covered-up the initial first wave of the outbreak doesn’t soften the blow one bit. Instead of focusing on containing the virus, China focused on containing the spread of information during the initial sightings of the coronavirus in December and January. Doctors and other whistleblowers who were among the first to sound the alarm in an attempt to warn their fellow citizens were censored or even detained.
After things got out of control, China imposed a strict lockdown on Wuhan and the province of Hubei, trapping tens of millions inside their homes. Since then, China’s handling of the situation has been used as a model by other countries. These measures are effective but it was too little, too late because the virus had already spread to the rest of the world.
A study published last month showed that had the Chinese authorities acted one, two, or three weeks earlier, the number of cases would have been reduced by 66 percent, 86 percent and 95 percent respectively.
China also regularly changed the way it reported its data. For weeks, reports on daily cases and deaths excluded people without symptoms, and only on Tuesday they added more than 1,500 asymptomatic cases to China’s total.
As the world is facing one of its greatest existential threats in modern history, now is not the time to point the finger. However, after all of this is over, the Chinese Communist Party will need to answer for the way it handled the situation. What seems certain is that China’s relationship with the rest of the world will suffer important changes.