Does anyone believe China’s coronavirus numbers?

I doubt anyone does. No one should.

The Washington Post is skeptical:

China is winning its “people’s war” against the coronavirus. That’s the message being sent by Chinese leaders and diplomats and amplified by the Communist Party-controlled press.

A central part of the narrative is that Wuhan, the onetime center of the outbreak and the site of a recent visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping, has stopped transmission in its tracks. It went five days without reporting new, local cases. On Monday, Wuhan reported one new case. . . .

But Wuhan’s near-zero count is being called into question by independent reporting and received with suspicion from experts. It underscores wider issues across China. The country’s overall coronavirus numbers have been met with some skepticism since the first signs of crisis.

Separate reports from Chinese, Japanese and Hong Kong media suggest the dearth of new cases in Wuhan may reflect a dip in testing. Public health experts also note that China does not include confirmed asymptomatic cases in its figures — a potential blind spot.

There’s also the distinct possibility that Chinese officials are outright lying. According to this report, “a single mortuary [in Wuhan] has had 5,000 urns delivered over the past two days, double the city’s reported coronavirus death toll.” A photo published by Caixin reportedly showed a truck loaded with 2,500 urns arriving at the Hankou Mortuary. The driver said he had delivered the same amount to the mortuary the day before.

The current reported number of total deaths in all of China from the Wuhan coronavirus is 3,295, according to Worldometer. Yesterday, China reported just five deaths. So far today, it has reported three.

South Korea reported eight deaths yesterday (again according to Worldometer). Its population is a very small fraction of China’s; it was not at the center of the outbreak, as China was; and it has been universally commended for its response to epidemic.

Even China’s premier, Li Keqiang, seems skeptical about the reporting from Wuhan and elsewhere. He warned local governments Monday not to “cover up” reporting on the coronavirus “for the sake of keeping new case numbers at zero.”

Local officials seem to have responded by keeping new case numbers between one and five.

It’s possible, however, that the premier issued his warning for show. China suffered a massive (and well deserved) propaganda hit as a result of the Wuhan virus. It’s now scrambling to recover prestige.

One way to accomplish this is to claim that compared to the West, it dealt capably with the pandemic. Falsely reporting a very low number of new cases and fatalities bolsters that narrative. As Andrew Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University and a leading China expert, says, “China is trying to bury the embarrassment of the Covid-19 cover-up in a happy story of triumph over the virus.”

In addition, Chinese officials want normal life to resume throughout the country so as to minimize the economic blow the virus has inflicted. Fake numbers make it easier fully to reopen the country without scaring citizens (assuming they believe the numbers) and without drawing more international criticism.

Tellingly, China has continued to suppress independent reporting about the Wuhan coronavirus. The expulsion of reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal is but one example.

I’ll give the next-to-last word to Peter Tsang, the director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. He says:

China is in the midst of its most intensive propaganda operation in living memory, in trying to project its success in dealing with the virus. There is now an imperative for the statistics to be low, and now we have statistics that serve the political imperative.

No one should believe these politically motivated statistics.

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