Commentary / Coronavirus

Why Should We Believe China’s Coronavirus Statistics?

ChinaHeadlines appeared yesterday afternoon — “US passes China in COVID-19 cases!” Who says? Often it’s the Johns Hopkins map. That site gives its main China source as an aggregator known as DXY. It also notes Worldometers, produced by a Chinese company called Dadax. But is COVID-19 possibly a sensitive issue in China? (Hint: yes). If so, why would anyone believe these sites know the true situation, or could report it if they did?

If you consider the Communist Party to be honest about matters affecting its legitimacy, stop reading. Perhaps switch to these links on reincarnation regulationssubversive Winnie the Pooh, or dangerous jasmine. (Reading about the Great Leap Forward or Tiananmen may prove harder.) For everyone else:

1) We’ve done a terrible job with COVID-19 testing but finally passed 500,000 tests yesterday. With more than four times our population, roughly a 2-month head start, and the great job it supposedly did, China must have at least 2 million test results, probably more. The details of these — symptoms, timing, demographics, recurrence — would be incredibly valuable to the world. Where are they?

2) If I missed them, send an email calling me an idiot (or worse). If not, what we’ve had from DXY for weeks — to its credit — is updates on Chinese “diagnoses” (not “cases”), deaths, and cures. No test numbers. It would be strange for China to have conducted hundreds of thousands or millions of tests and DXY not to report it.

3) What DXY reports is a very serious problem, now fading, in Hubei province. Closing on 68,000 diagnoses and 3200 deaths. The population of Hubei is roughly 60 million. For the entire rest of China, it reports a bit over 14,000 cases and closing on 130 deaths (time of writing). The population of the rest of China is a bit over 1.3 billion. You might see where I’m going here.

4) The first case in Hubei may have been November 17. China can’t be blamed for failing to recognize the situation then — it’s only easy in retrospect. But COVID-19 may have circulated that early. If not, then by December 26. Four weeks later, a quarantine is imposed on cities in Hubei. (Again, if quarantines are easy, many countries have made serious errors.) Millions were said to have left prior to quarantine. Say that’s exaggerated and it’s only hundreds of thousands. The vast majority of those exiting Hubei entirely — say thousands — went elsewhere in China, not other countries.

5) A country handling COVID-19 well is South Korea. An aggressive testing program, effective containment of an outbreak site, and far fewer cases than Germany. South Korea is richer than China. It has less than four percent of the population of China excluding Hubei. Given proximity to Hubei and the enormous population difference, you’d think the rest of China would reasonably have 30 times as many COVID-19 deaths as South Korea and still get credit for it, since South Korea is held up as a model. That’s off by about a factor of 31. The rest of China reports slightly fewer deaths than South Korea.

6) Another quick responder to COVID-19 is Singapore. It is far away from China, though it receives a lot of traffic. Singapore has a population of less than 6 million, closing on 700 cases at time of writing, and 2 deaths. Jiangsu province is closer to Hubei, sees a lot of domestic and global traffic, and is not as rich as Singapore. Hopkins source DXY puts Jiangsu “cases” at 640 and rising slower than Singapore’s. No deaths. The population of Jiangsu is 80 million.

I could illustrate how . . . remarkable numbers are in other provinces, too. If you think that, despite at least a month of uncontrolled movement, the government performed miracles to stop COVID-19 in other provinces, you might believe those numbers. Strangely, though, the same government totally botched the situation in Hubei itself.

Or maybe China’s cases aren’t the same as ours or others. The reason the world doesn’t have the incredibly valuable test data is because tests weren’t conducted for public use. Instead, publicly disclosed diagnoses were made by presentation of symptoms and contact tracing back to Hubei (this is done in many countries). Public case identification through mass testing was not done. And if you don’t have a COVID-19 case, you can’t attribute a death to COVID-19.

How can China hide many COVID-19 cases? Most are mild, most of the rest can easily be deemed flu or pneumonia. How can China hide deaths? About 800,000 people die in China every month. 8,000 “extra” deaths per month due to COVID-19 is a rounding error. (That’s *not* an estimate of the number of deaths.)

China deliberately didn’t measure unemployment correctly for decades; it’s deliberately not measuring COVID-19 correctly now. With international cover provided by other countries struggling with the virus, China will over time revise its numbers. Until then, American journalists, you don’t have to believe a word I’ve written. But could you at least be a bit more thoughtful about this?

Reprinted with Permission from - by - Derek Scissors

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