Talk of a cover-up or possible coronavirus conspiracy in China has some wondering whether Beijing has really beaten back the coronavirus. More and more Chinese are going back to work, and health officials are worried about a second wave of the virus.
Imported cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, heightening those concerns about a second wave. Meanwhile, some are calling into question the way the Chinese government counts the number of people who have been infected by COVID-19.
Coronavirus conspiracy? Phone subscribers disappearing
Analysts from EXANTE said China Mobile estimates that 7 million people have been lost to the coronavirus. If that's the case, then there is a major coronavirus conspiracy going on. The estimate is based on a sharp decline in mobile subscribers. However, that sharp decline is probably due to other factors than just COVID-19.
Bloomberg reported that mobile carriers in China have lost 21 million users amid the coronavirus pandemic. China Mobile reported a decline of 8 million subscribers in January and February. Bernstein analyst Chris Lane said some of that decline could be caused by migrant workers, who usually have one subscription for the area they work in and another for their home region. Since they weren't working, they may have canceled the account they held for their work region.
There is also a possibility that some of the canceled accounts were operated by phone scammers who are no longer working. However, some scammers are working overtime to try to tap into the panic and confusion that has resulted from the pandemic. Thus, it's unclear just how much of an impact scammers may have had on the sudden decline in mobile phone subscribers.
Has China really beaten COVID-19?
The Guardian calls attention to several sources which suggest China has under-reported coronavirus cases, which could be a conspiracy. Officially, there has only been one locally transmitted case of the coronavirus in China. The patient was infected by someone who brought COVID-19 back with them from abroad.
Wuhan, which is where the coronavirus pandemic originally began, reported the fifth consecutive day without any new cases of the virus. Authorities have been gradually easing the restrictions in Wuhan, where residents have been under a lockdown for two months. Other Chinese cities are also shifting toward full restoration of production and activities of normal life.
However, more and more health experts are warning about a second wave of the coronavirus. Some have called attention to the increase in imported cases—travelers who contracted the virus in another country and brought it back to China with them. Others are warning about a second wave when the Chinese public fully returns to work.
Coronavirus conspiracy? Numbers in Wuhan manipulated
Chinese residents are raising the possibility of a coronavirus conspiracy, as many say they don't believe the officially reported numbers. One internet user responded to an essay posted by a someone volunteering in Wuhan who questioned the numbers, saying that "any rational person" would doubt then.
Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reported on Monday that hospitals in Wuhan were refusing to test anyone who wasn't showing any symptoms of the coronavirus. A doctor in Wuhan told Japan's Kyodo News that the number of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan was manipulated before Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the city last week.
The doctor claimed that several symptomatic patients were released from quarantine early, and some of the testing for the virus has been suspended. He said the number of patients being treated for the coronavirus is being manipulated to make it look like the Chinese government has successfully combated the pandemic.
Many social media users have alleged that new cases of COVID-19 have been uncovered in Wuhan despite the government's insistence that there haven't been new cases. However, Chinese officials issued a statement claiming those allegations aren't true.
Asymptomatic patients not included in the coronavirus count
According to The Guardian, some of the issues in coronavirus reporting come from how China classifies patients. The World Health Organization classifies everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 as a confirmed case of the virus. However, China excludes those who test positive for it but don't have any symptoms. And thus, there are concerns about a coronavirus conspiracy.
The health commission in Wuhan released a Q&A on Monday to explain how they deal with patients who don't have any symptoms of the virus. The agency said patients who test positive but don't have any symptoms are quarantined for 14 days. If they start to show symptoms, they are then designated as confirmed cases of the virus. The commission said "a small number" of patients without symptoms may become confirmed, but most of them "will heal by themselves."
Critics also want to know why patients who recovered from COVID-19 but test positive for the virus after recovering are not counted as new cases. Quarantine centers in Wuhan found that recovered patients have a 5% to 10% chance of retesting positive for the virus, according to the state-run Global Times. Hubei officials said those patients aren't counted as confirmed cases because they were already counted once.
How many patients are there really?
Chinese officials say they haven't seen asymptomatic patients pass the coronavirus on to other patients. However, one official from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention told Caixin that it's unclear whether transmission in Wuhan has been totally cut off. The person said there were still "a few or dozen symptomatic people every day."
The South China Morning Post reported on documents which indicated that over 43,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus by the end of February, but since they didn't show symptoms, they were never included in the official count of infections. The official number of COVID-19 cases is over 80,000.
Chinese authorities are now facing the need to resume economic activity. A politics professor at the University of California, San Diego, told The Guardian that one way to do that without panicking the general public is to cover up the real number of cases.