• Monday, May 25, 2020
  • Last Update : 02:30 pm

China hints its coronavirus data may not paint full picture

  • Published at 09:53 am April 1st, 2020
China-Wuhan-Covid-19-coronavirus
File Photo: Volunteers in protective suits disinfect a shopping complex in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of China's Covid-19 outbreak, March 31, 2020 Reuters

Asymptomatic persons would be required to isolate at home as if they had Covid-19

Health officials in China have said that their numbers weren’t entirely giving the full picture of the coronavirus.

In a report published on Forbes on Tuesday, it said the ongoing global pandemic, which began in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province in China, had hit the advanced economies worse, by a factor of two at least.

Hubei ended the outbreak with just 67,801 cases and 3,187 deaths after it ignored warnings by Wuhan medical doctors for nearly four weeks about the new virus. However, Italy is about a week away from peak and has 101,739 cases with 11,591 deaths, the report said.

On Monday, US President Trump reiterated what his health team is saying about COVID-19 deaths: 200,000 dead is a success.

Why are China’s numbers so low?

One of the factors can be that they only tested who were really sick and did not usually test those in the family or social circle of the patients.

Considering that Hubei province was on strict quarantine, asymptomatic people were less likely to spread the disease beyond their own household, the report said. 

However, those who did get it, but had mild, weak or no symptoms at all were — by and large — not included in the total infection numbers. 

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said on Tuesday that they will include asymptomatic coronavirus carriers in its daily figures starting Wednesday.

Therefore, if China’s numbers climb up fast in the days ahead, that is probably the reason behind it. 

The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that the officials said the new measures would help to address growing public concerns about the risks of catching COVID-19 by asymptomatic carriers.

The NHC said it will require local medical centers to report these positive, yet asymptomatic cases through their central communicable disease reporting system. 

Asymptomatic persons would be required to isolate at home as if they had COVID-19.

The move for more reputable testing data comes at a time when the UK has been arguing that China’s death toll and overall infection rate numbers are wrong, the report said.

As countries continue to watch Italy rates soar, with no end yet in sight, even though infection rates have slowed as the country approaches its peak in coronavirus.

At the same time, the high and fast infection rate totals are scaring the Brits, the Spanish, the French and the Germans. 

In an interview with Sean Hannity on FOX on Tuesday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called out China saying their numbers were not accurate and China’s numbers gave countries a false sense of how many infections they were likely to get.

“When you hear (doctors) talk about risk and talk about fatalities trying to think about how to model, what they need is data. And they need data from Italy, data from China, data from Iran,” the report quoted Pompeo as saying. 

“We need every country to step up and provide accurate, transparent information. And we can’t have that if we have disinformation instead. More lives will be at risk not only today but in the weeks ahead as we battle this enormous challenge,” he added.

On Monday, the South China Morning Post quoted a Chinese health expert saying that there was not enough evidence to prove asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease.

China’s Lockdown Model

China’s numbers could also be lower than Italy’s and the US due to strict quarantine measures, enforced by a quasi-police state for two months.

Saying that only now Hubei is opening up again, the report also mentioned that the Chinese province was locked down the third week of January. As such, no one was allowed to leave the province, and no one could get in. Placing the locals under forced quarantine, Wuhan closed grocery stores by February, only allowing people to buy food through pre-approved delivery people, the report said.

Wuhan was a ghost town for months, helping alleviate viral spreading.

By comparison, Italy only locked down Lombardy state and then locked down the whole country a week later, in the first week of March.

The French were still zipping in and out of Italy as the country went from roughly 20 cases to 200 in one weekend, and then doubled exponentially every other day. The French closed its borders a few days after Italy, putting them at least a week behind, the report said.

Meanwhile, the UK also failed to shut down underwater rail transit to France even after the US banned flights to 26 European countries, except for returning nationals and green card holders.

The UK now has over 22,000 cases and over 1,400 dead. France has reported over 45,000 cases and over 3,000 dead. Both countries are a good two weeks away from the peak, the Forbes report mentioned.

Lockdowns, social distancing works to stop the spread

Lockdowns and social distancing actually worked in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, all fairly heavily trafficked by Chinese nationals.

The question of asymptomatic carriers has been the lynchpin of the outbreak, with data from Italy suggesting that as many as 25% of those who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 did not have the main symptoms of COVID-19. 

At the same time, the Journal of the American Medical Association said around 6% had no symptoms at all despite testing positive for the virus.

One of Singapore’s top doctors said asymptomatic carriers are spreaders, the report said.

“What we have seen is that we had very large clusters of sick people that stemmed from asymptomatic carriers going out and spreading the disease,” the report quoted Singapore’s Ministry of Public Health Director of Communicable Diseases Dr Vernon Lee as saying while on a conference call organized by Caixin Global, a Chinese financial news publisher.

The main mode of transmission is from droplets coming from talking, coughing or sneezing; touching dirty surfaces that were handled by sick people; and catching it from asymptomatic transmission through the aforementioned main modes, it added.

The coronavirus has become the single biggest determinant of the world economy today and of investor sentiment.

The report also mentioned that a poll by UBS showed that 43% of their clients said they would be back in the market only if the market falls another 5% to 20%, suggesting there are many investors who think downside risk remains strong.

Right now, all eyes were on Italy reaching peak coronavirus next week and plateauing with more recoveries than new infections. This would give other European countries a relative timeline as to when they can expect to peak, with decelerating rates of infections, the report said.

Roughly 3 million people were laid off in the US last week, with numbers seen doubling in the weeks ahead as the pandemic ravages world economies.

Three months into the outbreak, China’s economy is just beginning to show signs of life. More stimulus is coming and the threat of a second outbreak in China remains a real risk in a worse case scenario.

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