China rejects claims of inaccurate coronavirus death tally in Wuhan

Laura Zhou

Beijing has again sought to quell concerns that it underreported the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic, with the Chinese ambassador to France saying China did not conceal fatalities.

Asked on Wednesday about reports in China of thousands of funeral urns and long queues at funeral homes in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, ambassador Lu Shaye told French cable news channel BFM TV that while the coronavirus killed about 2,500 people in the city, roughly 10,000 others died of other causes.

“Funeral homes in Wuhan reopened on March 23,” Lu said.

“You saw a lot of people waiting in line because over the two months of lockdown in Wuhan, apart from the coronavirus deaths, there have been about 10,000 people who died of other reasons.

“We didn’t conceal death figures, and the numbers are accurate.”

There have been deep doubts over China’s official death tally, with earlier reports by Chinese media suggesting that more people might have died from the virus than the official figures indicated.

In a report on the weekend, Caixin magazine quoted a truck driver as saying he delivered about 5,000 urns on Wednesday and Thursday to a funeral parlour in Hankou district – one of eight such facilities in Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the pandemic.

In February, Caixin also reported that a number of patients had not been counted as coronavirus victims before because they did not have a chance to be tested. Their death certificates usually started the cause of death as “severe pneumonia” or “severe community-acquired pneumonia”.

When the pneumonia-like illness was first reported in late December, only those who tested positive were considered as confirmed cases. There was a serious shortage of testing capacity at the time, and it was not until mid-February that China expanded diagnostic criteria for the disease.

Medical personnel have also said that many patients were turned away in the early stages of the outbreak when the hospital system in Wuhan was overwhelmed.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg cited three anonymous US officials as saying that the US intelligence community submitted a classified report to the White House last week, saying that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths was intentionally incomplete.

Lu said traffic restrictions imposed in the Wuhan from January 23 prevented many people from collecting the remains of their relatives, resulting in long queues at Wuhan funeral homes after the restrictions were lifted last week.

He said an estimated 51,200 people died in Wuhan in 2019, or more than 4,000 people on average each month, and the figures for January and February were usually higher than the rest of the year because of cold weather.

By Wednesday, China reported 3,199 coronavirus deaths, 2,559 of which were in Wuhan. Globally, the fast-spreading coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19, has killed at least 42,081 people, including 13,155 in Italy and more than 5,000 in the United States.

Lu said that after about two months of strict controls on movement within the country, China had brought the coronavirus epidemic under control. But he also warned against the potential threat from imported infections, raising concerns over a second wave of the disease.

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