August 4, 2020

Coronavirus: Why China’s claims of success raise eyebrows

China has reported no new deaths from coronavirus anywhere in the country, for the first time since the beginning of the outbreak. But as the BBC’s Robin Brant writes, there are lingering questions over how far these figures, and therefore China’s narrative on the outbreak, can be trusted.

For months now, every morning at 03:00, officials in China have put together the latest figures on the spread of the virus to share with the world. As of 7 April, it had recorded 81,740 cases and 3,331 deaths.

The country where the virus emerged has received praise for its handling of the crisis. World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed China for the “speed with which [it] detected the outbreak” and its “commitment to transparency”.

But despite those warm words from the WHO, there is considerable and persistent doubt about the official statistics and claims of success.

Last week, senior British government minister Michael Gove told the BBC “some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of the virus”.

US President Donald Trump also said last week that the reported death toll and infections seemed “a little bit on the light side”. And for some time US lawmakers have accused China of under-reporting the scale of the outbreak.

As cases rise across the world – the US has already far outstripped reported Chinese cases and deaths – some appear to be looking to China for answers on how to “flatten the curve”.

But there is growing concern that China is not being entirely honest about the extent of its infections and deaths.

This mistrust is partly about history – and partly about a lack of clarity that inevitably breeds mistrust.

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