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China CDC study finds coronavirus case in Wuhan nearly 10 times the recorded tally

December 30, 2020 | 15:01

A study conducted by China's public health authorities shows that the scale of Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan may have been nearly 10 times the recorded tally, which means that 490,000 coronavirus cases have never been counted.

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490,000 coronavirus cases in Wuhan were never reported

A study on coronavirus antibodies in Wuhan’s population conducted back in mid-April suggests the true tally of COVID-19 infections may have been 10 times higher than the numbers were reported by health officials, Fox News reported.

About 4.4% of those tested were found to have specific antibodies that can fight off the pathogen that causes Covid-19, indicating they were infected some time in the past, according to a serological survey of more than 34,000 people conducted in April by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The data was released late Monday.

That ratio would suggest that with Wuhan home to about 11 million people, as many as 500,000 residents may have been infected, nearly 10 times more than the 50,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases reported by health authorities in mid-April, when the survey was conducted, reported Bloomberg.

The infection rate was far lower at 0.44 percent for the cities and prefectures immediately outside of Wuhan. The study also claimed that only two persons tested positive for the antibodies out of 12,000 surveyed in the six other major cities and provinces tested.

China CDC study finds coronavirus case in Wuhan nearly 10 times the recorded tally
Testing coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Photo: AP

The China CDC survey showed a far less impact of the virus outside Wuhan, which was effectively shut off as a way of containing the outbreak. The positive rate for antibodies dropped to 0.44% for the broader Hubei province, which was also placed under a three-month lockdown. Only two people tested positive for the antibody among the 12,000 surveyed in six other Chinese cities and provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, suggesting an extremely low prevalence of the virus across the rest of the country.

The results for Wuhan mean even China’s worst-hit city is still vulnerable to Covid-19. Epidemiologists say at least half a population needs to have come into contact with the virus for even the minimum threshold for herd immunity. But the city’s rate of infection is generally in line with those found in other countries after the first wave of coronavirus infections, the China CDC said in a press release published on its website.

Questions continuously raised about China’s accounting of the virus fallout in Wuhan

After China declared victory over the coronavirus with "zero" local infections on March 19, it has since officially acknowledged subsequent "small" outbreaks in Guangdong, Beijing, Yunnan, Wuhan, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Jilin, Qingdao, Xinjiang, and Shanghai. These have been followed by mass testing campaigns that numbered in the millions; however, the results of such tests are never released in detail, and additional positive cases are rarely if ever announced, Taiwan News reported.

China CDC study finds coronavirus case in Wuhan nearly 10 times the recorded tally
Medical staff at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on Jan. 25. Photographer: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

A seroepidemiological study such as this would reveal the true extent of infections from these outbreaks. As for deaths from the disease, which have remained unchanged at 4,634 for months, one method that could provide insight into the true number of deaths would be for China to release statistics for excess deaths for 2020.

Unfortunately, China is only taking more steps at repressing information about the outbreak. On Monday, China sentenced a former lawyer who reported on the early stages of the outbreak to four years in prison. Zhang Zhan was accused of spreading false information, giving false interviews to foreign media, disrupting public order and "maliciously" manipulating the outbreak, according to the Associated Press.

China CDC study finds coronavirus case in Wuhan nearly 10 times the recorded tally
A volunteer in central China's Henan Province is being injected with the inactivated COVID-19 vaccine. /Photo courtesy of CNBG

According to Bloomberg, China has been criticized internationally for its initial handling of the outbreak, which has spread around the world in a global pandemic in the year since the first cases emerged. The U.S. has raised questions about China’s accounting of the virus fallout in Wuhan, which was quickly eclipsed by larger outbreaks in Europe and North America. A number of revisions of the case and deaths data added to suspicions China was massaging the numbers.

The country has faced prior allegations of covering up the true depth of the outbreak in the early stages, and potentially enabling the virus to spread throughout the world through delays in information sharing and refusal to allow investigational teams from outside countries.

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