At least 50% more people died in China’s virus epicentre of Wuhan than previously counted, with state media attributing the initial undercount to how overwhelmed the health system was coping with thousands of sick people.
The addition of 1,290 victims raised Wuhan’s death toll to 3,869, the most in China, and may confirm suspicions that far more people died in the city where the illness began than has been previously announced.
The total confirmed cases in the city of 11 million people also increased by 325 to 50,333, accounting for about two-thirds of China’s 82,367 announced cases.
The revised Wuhan figures raised China’s death toll to 4,632, up from 3,342 announced by the National Health Commission.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unidentified official with Wuhan’s epidemic prevention and control headquarters as saying that during the early stages of the outbreak, “due to the insufficiency in admission and treatment capability, a few medical institutions failed to connect with the disease prevention and control system in time, while hospitals were overloaded and medics were overwhelmed with patients”.
“As a result, belated, missed and mistaken reporting occurred,” the official was quoted as saying.
The new figures were compiled by comparing data from Wuhan’s epidemic prevention and control system, the city funeral service, the municipal hospital authority, and nucleic acid testing to “remove double-counted cases and fill in missed cases”, the official said.
Deaths occurring outside hospital had not been registered previously and some medical institutions had confirmed cases but reported them late or not at all, the official said.
Questions have long swirled around the accuracy of China’s case reporting, with Wuhan in particular going several days in January without reporting new cases or deaths. That has led to accusations that Chinese officials were seeking to minimise the impact of the outbreak and wasting opportunities to bring it under control sooner.
A group of eight medical workers, including a doctor who later died of the virus, were even threatened by police for trying to alert people about the disease over social media.
Chinese officials have denied covering up cases, saying their reports were accurate and timely, but the World Health Organisation has come under criticism for defending China’s handling of the outbreak.
At the start of the outbreak, China proceeded cautiously and largely in secret, emphasising political stability.
More than 3,000 people had been infected before Beijing told the public that a pandemic was likely, something officials had concluded six days earlier.
The risk of sustained human-to-human transmission was also downplayed, even while infected people entered hospitals across the country and the first case outside China was found, in Thailand.