The number of coronavirus cases in China is being called into question yet again. This time the questions stem from a report that the number of mortuary urns being delivered to Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak, is more than double the number of reported deaths from COVID-19.
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Chinese-language news outlet Caixin reports that one mortuary had 5,000 urns delivered in only two days. That's nearly double the number of people reported to have died from the coronavirus. That suggests officials in China haven't totally forthcoming about the number of coronavirus cases they've had.
The news outlet cites a truck driver who delivered 2,500 urns to Hankou Mortuary. He said he delivered another 2,500 urns to the same mortuary the day before. Caixin posted photos showing seven stacks of mortuary urns with 500 urns in each stack, which amounts to 3,500 urns.
The Chinese government reported that 50,006 people in Wuhan were diagnosed with the coronavirus, and 2,535 died from it there. However, the large number of mortuary urns suggests that the number of coronavirus cases could be much higher than reported in China. It also suggests that the death toll is much greater.
In Italy, which has a much smaller population than China, the official death toll is about quadruple that of China, according to CNN. This also calls China's official number of coronavirus cases into question.
Questions about the death toll increase
Hankou is only one of eight mortuaries in Wuhan. Thus, if all the other mortuaries are receiving the same number of urns, it suggests more than 40,000 urns may have been delivered within the past week. Bloomberg called six of the eight funeral homes in Wuhan to find out how many urns were waiting to be collected. However, officials from the funeral homes said they either didn't have that information or could not release it.
Caixin also reports that when mortuaries reopened in Wuhan, residents waited in long lines for up to five hours to get the remains of loved ones who have died during the pandemic.
Officials in China announced that the quarantine that's been in place for the last three months will be lifted after the number of new domestic coronaviruss cases fell to zero. They also started sending medical supplies to some countries that have been hard hit by COVID-19. Meanwhile, the infection and death toll in other countries have been soaring.
Some hospitals in New York, Madrid and Milan have put up tents outside to deal with the massive influx related to the coronavirus. The number of people infected globally has surpassed 500,000, and 24,000 people have died from COVID-19.
Because of the soaring infection and death rates in other countries, the number of coronavirus cases in China looks even more suspect. Further, Caixin reports that many patients who died had symptoms of the virus, but they were never tested for it. Thus, they were never included in the tally of official cases.
The large number of urns being delivered isn't the only issue calling into question the number of infections and deaths in the country. More and more news outlets have been reported that millions of mobile phone accounts have been canceled. Some of the cancellations are likely due to people canceling work accounts while they aren't working because many Chinese have more than one mobile phone account. However, the high numbers also suggest that the death toll from COVID-19 is much higher than being officially reported.
The Epoch Times is one of the most recent news outlets to report an increase in phone cancellations, although it is far from the only news outlet reporting this. The site reports that China lost 21 million mobile phone subscribers within the last three months.
The Epoch Times cited the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's latest tally of phone users, which was released on March 19. The news site compared the number with the tally from the previous report, which was released on Dec. 18. Further, the number of mobile phone subscribers increased during the same timeframe last year.
Because of the digital nature of the nation's economy, the Chinese really can't get by without a mobile phone. From government pensions and social security to shopping and purchasing train tickets, mobile devices are used for everything.
One other problem with the official tally of coronavirus cases in China is the repeated changes to the way the number of cases is counted.
WHO's data also called into question
China's tally of coronavirus cases isn't the only one that's being called into question. According to the Foundation for Economic Education, an online publication at University of Oxford has stopped relying on data from the World Health Organization. Our World in Data cited two reasons for the move.
The publication said the WHO changed the reporting cutoff time, leaving a gap in time in the number of coronavirus cases reported. Further, the Oxford publication said it found several errors in the WHO's data. It is now working with the agency to correct those errors. Our World in Data is now relying on data form the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The WHO has been having problems with reporting about COVID-19 for months. A tweet posted in January claimed that there had been now human-to-human transmissions of the virus in China as of that time, citing preliminary investigations by Chinese officials.
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China??. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 14, 2020
According to the South China Morning Post, authorities in China knew about the coronavirus as early as November. They also knew it was spreading, as at least 266 people were found to have been infected last year. However, doctors there didn't realize it was a new infection until late December.
More concerns about a second wave
Additionally, NPR reports that some Wuhan residents tested positive for the coronavirus, then recovered and tested negative for it. Then they tested positive for it again after receiving a negative test following their recovery.
Some of those in Wuhan who tested positive for COVID-19 after having recovered from it do not have any symptoms. They may still be able to infect others with the virus, which suggests the outbreak in Wuhan won't be over any time soon.
NPR spoke and texted with four people in Wuhan who tested positive for the coronavirus after recovering from it. They asked to remain anonymous because those who have cast doubt on China's official tally of coronavirus cases have been detained. Two of the people are doctors who have been treating COVID-19 patients, and the other two are residents of Wuhan.
There has been a growing concern about a second wave of coronavirus cases in China. The country has officially been reporting a number of imported cases from those who brought COVID-19 back to China with them. However, that's not the only cause for concerns about a second wave.
Many fear that as the Chinese return to work after the lockdown, the number of cases will rise yet again. The concern about asymptomatic people carrying the virus and infecting others after having recovered only adds to these fears.