Reviews | Pandemic stats from China are too good to be true

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Judging by the numbers, China seems to be experiencing a much different pandemic than the rest of the world. In the latest wave in Shanghai, its largest city with a population of 25 million, China has reported more than 300,000 cases since early March and no deaths. On the other hand, the world as a whole has experienced approximately 195 deaths per 100,000 population since last November. Can we believe the Chinese statistics?

the death toll is not the only anomaly. Worldwide, at least 500 million people have been infected. According to estimates investigating millions of cases, around 40% of them – sometimes more, sometimes fewer – were asymptomatic, meaning they tested positive but had no symptoms. And the others had symptoms ranging from mild to severe, including hospitalization and death.

But data reported from China shows a virus that is causing very few symptoms or serious illness. In reports from Shanghai, cases are massively asymptomatic. On April 10, for example, there were 25,173 new asymptomatic infections, compared to only 914 symptomatic, or about 3.6%. On April 13, China reported 25,146 asymptomatic cases and 2,573 symptomatic, or 10%. The Chinese population has been widely vaccinated, although the rate is low among the elderly.

So why so few symptomatic infections? Chinese officials say they caught infections early via massive monitoring and testing, and by a policy requiring all those who test positive to enter quarantine and not self-isolate at home. However, in Shanghai they may have included in the asymptomatic count those who suffer mild symptomsdeliberately minimizing the number of people with serious illness.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping boasts that the pandemic response demonstrates the benefits of his zero-tolerance approach. “People first and life first,” he said. mentionedvowing not to relax the strategy, despite some angry protests in Shanghai.

But China’s leaders run a police state that spreads propaganda while censoring independent news, and have a long history of lying or covering up bad news and disasters. In January 2020, they hid the fact that the virus was transmissible from human to human as the pandemic exploded. The death toll reported by China at the start of the pandemic was most likely a very small fraction of those who actually perished.

In general, covid mortality has been difficult to calculate around the world because it may only be a contributing factor to a death or may be omitted in determining the cause of death. To keep the death toll low, China could attribute covid deaths to other causes. The result is a striking disparity with other nations. A study just published by the Lancet, looking at infections through last November, found the US had a cumulative death rate of 298 per 100,000 population; Russia had 376; Germany 188; Great Britain 168; Brazil 332; India 250 — and China, one per 100,000.

Biologically, the virus in China – the omicron BA.2 subvariant – is not that different from elsewhere. What sets China apart is a government that is intent on spreading the narrative that it is doing an outstanding job in handling the pandemic.