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China changes Wuhan coronavirus death toll to 50% higher than previously released

Medical workers at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China. (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via AP/TNS)
April 17, 2020

China has revised its coronavirus death toll, admitting an additional 1,290 deaths not previously identified out of the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

News of the Chinese death toll revisions was first reported by the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency and then by the Associated Press. The revised death toll is based on new data from Wuhan, which raises the city’s death toll by 50 percent to 3,869 deaths. The number raises China’s overall coronavirus deaths from 3,342 to 4,632.

The new coronavirus numbers appear to confirm suspicions that the Chinese government has underreported its coronavirus figures. Xinhua News Agency reported the new numbers are the result of an in-depth review and that the previous undercount stems from people who were isolated at home due to a lack of hospital beds, mistaken reporting by hospital staff and deaths at medical institutions not linked with the country’s epidemic information network.

“As a result, belated, missed and mistaken reporting occurred,” Xinhua quoted one unnamed official from Wuhan’s response headquarters.

“The data released by Wuhan reflects openness and transparency and an attitude of seeking truth from facts,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said of the newly revised numbers.

The revised totals come amid numerous criticisms about China’s transparency during the coronavirus outbreak. Forbes reported Lijian denied any claims of a Chinese government effort to hide the true number of coronavirus cases, but others have noted a pattern of behaviors that could indicate deliberate efforts to downplay the severity of the coronavirus.

Reports have shown a nearly two-week pause in coronavirus case reporting from Jan. 5 to Jan. 17, during which time hundreds of patients were arriving at hospitals around the country.

In a Wednesday White House press briefing, President Donald Trump openly questioned the number of coronavirus deaths being reported out of China.

“Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China, and that they have a certain number of cases and a certain number of deaths; does anybody really believe that?” Trump said.

Other reports have found peculiarities in the recent behaviors of funeral homes in Wuhan in late March, where seven funeral homes had together distributed 3,500 urns per day for several days on end and mass shipments of new urns indicated a cremation caseload of around 40,000. The high number of cremations have been used to speculate a much higher death toll than the roughly 2,500 deaths reported in Wuhan at the time.

Efforts by the Chinese government to detain and reprimand whistleblowers who warned about the virus early on have also added to suspicions about its willingness to admit to a severe disease outbreak before it spread around the world.