The number of cases of coronavirus in the Chinese city where the pathogen was first discovered may have been ten times higher than official figures suggest, according to an investigation by health authorities in Wuhan.
About 4.4 percent of the city’s 11 million residents had developed antibodies to the virus that caused Covid-19 in April, according to a report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control (CDC).
It correlates with about 480,000 infections in Wuhan in April, almost ten times the official number so far for 50,000 cases in the city.
China has faced a large number of critics at home and abroad for its initial handling of the virus, including attempts to silence whistlers and not report any cases for several days in early January amid high political consultations.
On Monday, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was jailed for four years for reporting on conditions in Wuhan during the height of the outbreak.
The discrepancy revealed by the CDC’s data may “point to potential underreporting due to the chaos in late January and early February, when a large number of people were not or were not tested exactly for Covid-19,” Huang Yanzhong, a senior colleague for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), told AFP.
Qin Ying, a CDC serology expert, told AFP on Wednesday that differences in data were not unique to China.
“Several countries have already published similar serological studies and … in most cases, the number of people with coronavirus antibodies was several times higher than the confirmed case,” Qin said.
“So this kind of difference is a widespread phenomenon.”
The CDC added that only 0.44 percent of the population in central Hubei province outside Wuhan showed antibodies to the virus, suggesting that the 77-day lock-in of the city may have helped prevent the spread of the disease.
The results of the survey of more than 34,000 people across the country conducted in April were not released until late Monday.
China does not include asymptomatic cases in its official speech, which may also explain the discrepancy between the total confirmed cases and the actual number of infected.
The country’s total number of cases is 87,027 with 4,634 deaths, according to data from the National Health Commission on Wednesday.
China has largely curtailed the virus at home and was the only major economy to report positive economic growth this year when restrictions on business and internal travel were removed.
Also in Wuhan, “the share is not as high as in New York City (23 percent in September), which may indicate that the (Chinese) government’s containment efforts were quick and effective,” Huang said.
Officials have also rushed to test tens of millions of people for squashing local mini-outbreaks.