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Health officials in Wuhan announced Friday morning that the city’s coronavirus death toll had been misstated, revising it up from 2,579 to 3,869, a spike of 1,290 or an almost 50% increase.
The announcement of the new figures comes days after leaked documents showed that Beijing was aware that coronavirus could spread from human to human and waited almost a week to make the news public.
The new Wuhan death toll will likely fuel accusations that Beijing was not transparent enough with the World Health Organization and with other governments, by silencing whistleblowing doctors in early January and failing to give officials access to Wuhan in the early days of the outbreak.
But despite the dramatic uptick in confirmed deaths in Wuhan, China is insisting there was no cover-up—because China does not allow cover-ups.
“There has never been any concealment, and we'll never allow any concealment," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who recently peddled a conspiracy theory that the U.S. Army imported coronavirus to Wuhan, said at a press conference Friday. He added the new number was the result of a “statistical verification” process that was normal in situations like this.
An official from the Wuhan municipal headquarters for COVID-19 epidemic prevention and control said the new figure was the result of deaths that occurred outside hospitals and had not been registered until now. The official also said some medical institutions had confirmed cases but reported them late or not at all.
“In the early period of the outbreak, due to the insufficiency in admission and treatment capability, a few medical institutions failed to connect with the disease prevention and control system in time, while hospitals were overloaded and medics were overwhelmed with patients. As a result, belated, missed, and mistaken reporting occurred,” the official told the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
The official said a group had been working on revising the data released since late March, comparing data gathered by various sources including funeral services, disease control, the municipal hospital authority, and nucleic acid testing.
As well as the large spike in deaths, the number of confirmed coronavirus infections jumped slightly from 50,008 to 50,333 after officials found a total of 217 repeatedly counted cases and a total of 542 cases that were previously not tallied due to belated or missed reporting.
The National Health Commission in Beijing revised China’s death toll to 4,632, up from 3,342 following the announcement from Wuhan.
Since the outbreak began in Wuhan in December, the coronavirus has gone on to infect more than 2 million people globally and kill at least 146,000 people. China claims it has all but eradicated the outbreak, but the long-term fallout from the coronavirus will likely be felt for years. On Friday, new figures showed that its economy had shrunk by 6.8%, the country’s first slump in 44 years.
China has been working hard to counter claims from around the world that it covered up the severity of the outbreak. Initially, President Donald Trump and his administration praised China’s efforts, but in recent days they have begun to criticize President Xi and his regime.
On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper accused Beijing of "misleading" the world on the coronavirus outbreak, but Zhao hit back on Friday.
“If the U.S. was misled or did not receive sufficient information in the early stages of the outbreak, why did the U.S. CDC issue a warning about COVID-19 on January 15?” Zhao said during a press conference.
But it’s not just Washington who's calling for answers from Beijing.
On Thursday, Dominic Raab, the British foreign secretary, told Reuters that China would have to answer “hard questions” after the crisis about how the pandemic could have been stopped earlier, while French President Emmanuel Macron told the Financial Times that “there are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.”
Cover: A man reads a medical report while holding CT scans between his legs near a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Thursday, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)