China’s coronavirus outbreak in the original epicentre of Wuhan may have been 10 times larger than authorities officially declared, a study has revealed.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention says widespread antibody testing in April after its first wave of infection had been suppressed indicate that close to 4.5 per cent of the city’s residents had Covid-19 antibodies.
With a population of roughly 11 million people, the study suggests about 500,000 people in Wuhan may have contracted the virus, substantially higher than the 50,354 cases the city has officially recorded.
Professor Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland, told the South China Morning Post the study indicates China “missed quite a bit” of its infections.
And while experts say it is understandable cases would be missed due to an initial lack of testing and hospital beds in the beginning of a global pandemic, China has faced criticism and allegations of under-reporting official numbers and downplaying the severity of the Wuhan outbreak.
Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, told CTV News under-reporting was possible.
Leaked documents revealed earlier this month by CNN from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention show authorities had made lower daily totals public than to the ones held internally.
Until February 12, China refused to include patients who showed all the signs of the virus in its official data if they hadn’t taken a test and resulted in close to 15,000 new cases being added to the cumulative total.
China’s insistence on omitting asymptomatic cases from the official total has also complicated matters.
The Communist Party of China has faced allegations it purposely covered up the outbreak in its early days until it realised the severity of the epidemic.
Study suggests Wuhan’s strict lockdown was effective
The antibody testing was also used outside of Wuhan and Hubei province to determine how effective the city’s draconian 76-day lockdown had been.
The study found extremely low levels of virus outside of the province, confirming China’s success in preventing rampant spread of the virus across the country.
“The survey results show that the [Chinese] population is generally at a low level of infection, indicating that the epidemic control with Wuhan as the main battlefield has been successful and effectively prevented the large-scale spread of the epidemic,” the CDCC stated.
The study took samples from 34,000 people in Wuhan, as well the broader Hubei province, Beijing, Shanghai and four other provinces.
Only two people tested positive for antibodies from 12,000 people tested outside Hubei.
Next month international scientists will descended on Wuhan as part of a highly-publicised investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic after much deliberation.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s early calls for such an investigation angered China who initially resisted calls for a foreign involvement.
Mr Morrison’s stance triggered a war of words between Canberra and Beijing which has seen relations between the two countries plummet.
China has so far recorded 95,851 official cases and 4,781 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
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