Has China underreported the number of Covid-19 cases?

by Andrada Costoiu

Having analyzing the statistics for the past week or so, I am rather puzzled by the evolution of the pandemics across the world. While China is reporting very few or little cases, other parts of the world, aka Western Europe and USA is witnessing an exponential evolution in number of infections and deaths. Not only is the number of infections quickly increasing everywhere but, by comparison, the number of cases/size of population seems unaligned when comparing China with the rest of the world.

Because I have lived in a former communist country, my first thought was that China’s government is misinforming the rest of the world. However, I have dismissed this idea on thoughts that they have been better on measures of containment.
Though, as the infection with Covid-19 is unfolding day after day, my thoughts of misinformation don’t go away. So, I am looking again at statistics. The story of China doesn’t seem credible and here is why.

Forget about the number of deaths, let’s look at the numbers in a way an epidemiologist would analyze them. 

Scientists use RO – the reproduction number – to describe the intensity of an infectious disease outbreak. R0 is the number of cases, on average, an infected person will cause during their infectious period. According the available scientific information the RO for SARS was 3 (World Health Organization). Click here to see the reference about SARS. So an infected person will infect 3 other people and so on. It’s like a snowball. 

We don’t know yet what the reproduction number is yet for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But what we do know is the number of infections and deaths/ per country.

By looking at statistics, I think the most telling is the following. I built this table based on data from European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. This table shows how the number of infections has doubled throughout the world. You can find more statistics and info at European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, click here to get to their page

World  # cases doubled in
7 days
657,140 total March 29+65,169 new March 29
United States # cases doubled in 4 days124,665 total March 29+19,979 new March 29
Italy# cases doubled in
9 days
92,472 total March 29+5,974 new March 29
China# cases doubled in
48 days 
82,342 total March 29+129 new March 29
Spain# cases doubled in
5 days
72,248 total March 29+8,189 new March 29
Germany# cases doubled in
6 days 
52,547 total March 29+3,965 new March 29
France# cases doubled in
6 days 
37,575 total March 29+4,611 new March 29
United Kingdom# cases doubled in
4 days 
17,089 total March 29+2,546 new March 29

Data source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Now, if the RO is the same for this virus across the world, you would expect the number of days in which the # of cases would double to be comparable among countries. Not the same, but comparable. So then, how come, between China and the rest of the world there is such a huge discrepancy?!!!! 48 days for China, while the rest of the world is 6-7 days?!!

To add to this, China’s population is 1.386 billion people. But let’s not talk about whole China. The hardest hit province was Hubei with 55 million. Guangdong Province too, was affected and it is connected by strong transportation links to Hubei Province. Guangdong is home to 113 million people and contains many large cities including Guangzhou (12m people), Shenzhen (10m), Dongguan (8m) and Foshan (7m). So, between Hubei and Guandog, we have close to 160 million people….
Let’s assume that COVID did not spread past these 2 provinces…

China has reported  82,342. So, to compare
China 82,342/160 million people
Italy 92,472 /60.4 million
Germany 52,547 /82.7 million 
Germany and Italy had a much later start than China, and they are still going strong. They still have yet to flatten the curve.

Based on this data, I am not sure if China is telling the real numbers. If they are, it would be great to know how their numbers doubled in 48 days while for the rest of the world was 6-7 days.  Also, what measures they put in place to spread the disease propagating throughout the rest of the population. 

I guess I am not the only one that hypothesizes that the Chinese official figures are inaccurate. 

Dr. Anne Schuchat, deputy director of the CDC, stated that her organization believes China is underreporting Covid-19 data.

Also, according to a study from Ohio State University, for China,  “the number of cumulative cases, new cases per day , and cumulative deaths coming from the non-official data are all substantially higher by a factor of 5 to 10 (depending on the date of the data) than would be implied by the official Chinese government data”. (Source: He, Mai and Dunn, Lucia F., Evaluating Incidence and Impact Estimates of the Coronavirus Outbreak from Official and Non-Official Chinese Data Sources (February 18, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3540636 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3540636)

A newspaper from NYC has obtained data from Shandong province in China. They report that:

“Each day from Feb. 9 to Feb. 23, Shandong authorities underreported the number of infections, according to internal data compiled by the Shandong Center for Disease Prevention and Control (SCDC). The SCDC kept a tally of the number of people who tested positive for the virus during nucleic acid testing—using a diagnostic kit to test patient samples and detect whether they contain the virus’s genetic sequence.
The SCDC’s daily new infection numbers ranged from 1.36 times to 52 times greater than the officially published data by the Shandong health commission and China’s National Health Commission.
As of Feb. 25, the Shandong government stated that there were a total of 755 infections in the province. But the internal document showed that 1,992 people had tested positive for the virus via nucleic acid testing as of Feb. 23.”

And now, UK’s government it believes that China has heavily underreported their cases. Click here is the link for the article in UK’s news

Oh, and here is an update: an article that came out today on yahoo news, that says ” Wuhan Residents Dismiss Official Coronavirus Death Toll: ‘The Incinerators Have Been Working Around the Clock”. Click here to go to this article.

Well folks, with all this information, I will let you judge. I think we all need to work together to combat this virus. No matter which part of the world we inhabit, we’re in this together. This is not a question of politics, it is a question of humanity. 


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