China Revises Wuhan Death Toll By 50% As Global Cases Mount

Health officials have attributed some of the discrepancies to “belated, missed and mistaken reporting.”

Medical workers are seen as they take swab samples from people to be tested for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China's central Hubei province on April 16. | Getty Images
Medical workers are seen as they take swab samples from people to be tested for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China's central Hubei province on April 16. | Getty Images

China has increased Wuhan’s death toll figure by nearly 1,300 amid ongoing criticism that the country downplayed the potential for a pandemic.

The new figure released on Friday comes after the global case total surpassed two million, per the Johns Hopkins University tracker, and the U.S. hit a new one-day record of 4,591 deaths. A state news agency cited a revised death toll of 3,869 for Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in December, which is up 1,290 from the National Health Commission’s previously reported 2,579. China’s death toll now exceeds 4,600 — less than half of New York City’s death toll of more than 11,400, which officials also significantly revised this week.

Chinese health officials have attributed the revised numbers to an in-depth review that found incorrect reporting by medical staff who were more focused on saving lives, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency. Deaths that happened at home also went unaccounted for as health systems were overwhelmed, the news agency reported. The state news agency also said the data discrepancies resulted from some medical centers being disconnected from the “epidemic information network,” as well as incomplete information for some deceased patients.

President Trump in recent days has accused China of underreporting its coronavirus figures. He has also directed his administration to cut funding from the World Health Organization, accusing the UN agency of being “China-centric” in its response to the virus.

"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 at the coronavirus press briefing Wednesday.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the WHO’s objection to the travel restriction from China that he introduced on Jan. 31, saying that his restrictions saved “untold numbers of lives.” The WHO has advised against curbing international travel as recently as February, saying it could be ineffective and “interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses, and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.”

French President Emmanuel Macron this week has also echoed UK leaders’ criticism of China’s transparency about the virus in an interview with the Financial Times described by BBC.

When the city of Wuhan reopened last week, it remained stricken by the psychological toll of the virus and a social stigma among recovered patients. Residents are still encouraged to stay home; elsewhere in China, major cities including Shanghai and Beijing in recent weeks have gradually reopened businesses and transportation.

The reopening came as health experts anticipated the potential for another spike in cases, even though officials have reported no new cases and slowly eased restrictions on travel in and out of the city for people who are healthy in recent weeks.

Recent reports, including from U.S. intelligence officials, have speculated that China and its capital Beijing significantly underreported the extent of the outbreak both in the country and in the epicenter of the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. (China’s foreign ministry spokesperson has rejected the U.S. allegation that Beijing concealed the extent of its outbreak.)

Earlier this week, the Associated Press published a leaked memo from Chinese health officials that found the government waited six key days during the COVID-19 outbreak in January before revealing to the public the risks of human-to-human transmission.