There are numerous people who think that China is lying about its COVID-19 deathtoll, suggesting that the actual number is much, much higher. They look at the deathtoll in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, and they just can’t accept that China has only around 4700 confirmed deaths so far, and a case fatality rate of about 5%.
Has China really been lying about its COVID-19 deathtoll figures?
There is really no need to go over nonsense like the reports about satellites detecting abnormally high amounts of sulphur in the air over Wuhan, which, according to some, indicates that they burn bodies on an industrial scale – that report originated from a US-funded propaganda outlet called Radio Free Asia (by the way, its Eastern-European variant, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, started off as a Cold War anti-Soviet propaganda tool, employing former nazi collaborators who got recruited for the role by the US government), and no viable confirmation of such claim exists anywhere. The supposed satellite image that was then reprinted by numerous tabloids in the West was taken from a weather forecast web-site Windy, which uses predictive simulation SO2 models developed by NASA to predict the approximate levels of sulphur dioxide in any location based on nearby industrial assets. It was not a real-time satellite observation, but a predictive modelling. The results were taken out of context and misrepresented in sensationalist manner for cheap propaganda purposes.
Similarly, reports about large amounts of burial urns being seen delivered to Wuhan has been debunked long time ago – first reported by Falun Gong cult members on social media, the claim doesn’t account for the fact that people have been dying of other causes during the lockdown, before crematoriums and burial agencies reopened, and, most importantly, that the amount of urns in the observed delivery doesn’t exceed regular demand seen in Wuhan.
Oh, but China has been revising its deathtoll, adding more people to it in retrospect, you might say. Yeah, so what? The New York authorities have been doing the same, so have the Spanish authorities. It’s quite common to revise and to reinvestigate the medical statistics after some time, as it is often problematic to account for everything in real time, especially during large outbreaks and pandemics, when the healthcare system becomes overloaded. It is quite possible that the current official Chinese deathtoll figures are inaccurate to a certain degree (same as in any other place right now), and that more will be revealed in future research and meta-analyses, but to suggest that there are 20 or 40 times more deaths than officially reported, as many do, is, frankly, absurd.
And why would Chinese lie about something like that in the first place? To “save the face”? To preserve the “Mandate of Heaven”? Because of “Confucian ethics”, or some other buzzwords that you’ve heard from self-proclaimed “China experts” who write for The Washington Post/The New York Times or from some miserable failed expats on YouTube who give you your weekly dose of anti-Chinese hate-porn, believing that living in China for a few years and learning the language somehow gives them expertise in everything they talk about (yeah, I have been living in Australia since the mid-2000s, I know English well enough, I have worked for the government, yet it doesn’t make me an expert on Western society, neither does it give me expertise to be an authority on all the different brunches and all the different levels of the Australian Government)? I could as well try to sound deep and sophisticated by trying to explain the COVID-19 disaster seen in Italy and Spain by making reference to the Roman Law of the Twelve Tables, or something, but that would hardly make my (pseudo-)analysis useful.
Well, you can speculate that the Chinese could be hiding their real deathtoll because they don’t want panic and because they don’t want to undermine people’s trust in the Communist Party. That is plausible, however, I can take it a bit further and ask why, in such case, would the Chinese authorities report over 4600 deaths? Why not keep it smaller and report just 460? Or just say that it was all successfully dealt with by the late January? To what extent do you hypothesise they lie? Do you think that the real deathtoll is not 4600-4700, but 46 000? Or maybe half a million (like, yeah, who would notice half a million people die in a country of 1.3 billion, right?)? It is possible to speculate, hypothesise and extrapolate to absurdity, but I don’t see any use in it (unless you have an agenda to engage in information warfare against China).
I don’t think you would notify international authorities on 31.12.2019 of a new infectious disease and then place the nation’s fifth largest city (and one of the country’s largest strategic transportation hubs) under lockdown to stop the spread of the disease if you were trying to hide something or if you were trying to pretend that everything is okay.
Such accusations of denial and mishandling of the pandemic sound more like a projection to me. Remember how in February this year, Trump was saying something among the lines that the new coronavirus should be treated “just like a flu”, and that it’s all going to be over by Easter, instead of trying to take some measures, both healthcare and economic, to prepare his country for the disaster? All while Wuhan was already under quarantine, the US already had its own confirmed cases that it could observe and study, with international research focusing on the pathogen and all scientific journals removing the paywall for everything SARS-2-CoV and COVID-19 related.
Less than three months later, the United States now has well over a million of confirmed coronavirus cases and over 69 000 confirmed deaths, with large masses of population unable to get adequate treatment or even basic healthcare – is that due to China’s supposedly lying too?
If you find it hard to believe that Chinese were able to deal with the COVID-19 and that their deathrate has been comparatively low, then you must also question the official figures coming from South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Russia (even though the confirmed cases have been on the rise there, the deathrate has been kept within the 1% margin), most of the former socialist Eastern Bloc countries, as well as Germany, Australia and New Zealand! All the countries listed above have a COVID-16 deathrate either comparable to that of China or substantially lower. Applying your standards of suspicion and (selective) scepticism, all of them must be lying in an attempt to conceal their real death figures to preserve order, legitimacy of their government, or whathaveyou.
It is certainly tragic that the US, UK, and a number of European countries have their healthcare and social services system destroyed by the decades of neoliberal reforms, rendering them unable to deal with serious pandemics, which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. However, trying to deflect the blame and being in denial that the current Chinese system could just be better at mobilising its resources and coordinating a response to the disaster on a wide scale, compared to some Western countries, isn’t the most productive thing one could be doing right now.
Many people who question China’s COVID-19 deathrate are doing it so fanatically, it is as if they actually want to see more Chinese people dead.