In Brief

China reports zero new coronavirus deaths: can we trust the statistics?

There has been international scepticism over Beijing’s track record on Covid-19 numbers

China reported no coronavirus deaths yesterday, the first time since it started publishing daily figures in January. The National Health Commission said it had 32 confirmed cases, down from 39 on Monday, and zero fatalities. 

However, there is still international concern over whether China is being honest about the extent of its infections and deaths. The BBC says that when it came to the coronavirus outbreak, “it's no secret that China did indeed conceal its existence, its extent and its severity in the early stages”.  

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Since then, whistle-blowers have been silenced and the Japanese news agency Kyodo News reports that an unnamed doctor in Wuhan said officials were ordering him and others to leave new cases out of the official numbers.

Last week, CNN reported that there were thousands more funeral urns delivered to Wuhan than would be accounted for by the official coronavirus death toll. Clouding the matter further, Time magazine says Beijing has revised its definition of what constitutes a Covid-19 infection on eight separate occasions.

Fox News goes as far as to claim there has been a “three-part” cover-up strategy by Beijing. It says the strategy started with a cover-up of the outbreak and continued with a suppression of the numbers of its coronavirus cases and death toll during January and February.

The third act, Fox says, was an “official, intentional pivot by China’s Communist Party leadership to shift on-going blame for the global coronavirus impact from China to the US”.

Sky News says Beijing has been “criticised for potentially under-reporting numbers by experts who are concerned it has prioritised restarting the economy over beating the virus.”

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying denies the charges, saying: “Slandering, smearing and blaming cannot make up for lost time and more lies will only waste more time and lead to more lives lost.”

So, should we trust the promising figure from Beijing yesterday? The BBC’s China correspondent, Stephen McDonell, says “in a way it doesn't matter if the figure is real”. 

He explains: “Even if the overall number of infections and deaths is under-reported, the trend seems instructive. Why? Because the trend matches reality in so many ways. Look at the trend. In the trend there is good news.” 

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