The Chinese regime has likely understated the country’s COVID-19 death rate by as much as 17,000 percent, in a systematic data-suppression campaign to sustain its political image, according to a U.S. analyst.
That would put the number of COVID-19 deaths in China at around 1.7 million rather than 4,636, the two-year cumulative death figure that the Chinese authorities have maintained. That’s 366 times the official figure.
Those findings, made by George Calhoun, director of the quantitative finance program at Stevens Institute of Technology, were based on data as of January generated by a model developed by The Economist.
A vast majority of China’s officially recorded deaths came from Wuhan during the first three months of the pandemic, with only hundreds more reported in the rest of the country since then.
The Chinese regime only reported four additional deaths from April 18, 2020, ranking China as having the world’s lowest COVID-19 death rate, which Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese epidemiologist overseeing China’s outbreak response, boasted about just last week.
But that jaw-dropping data point—hundreds of times lower than that of the United States—gave Calhoun pause.
“That’s impossible. It’s medically impossible, it’s statistically impossible,” Calhoun told NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.
“Remember, in 2020, there was no vaccine, there was no treatment,” he said. “So you had an unprotected population that has shown zero COVID deaths, even though they’ve had tens of thousands of cases.”
Curating public records and previous research reports, and analyzing the regime’s pattern of hushing up scandals in the past, Calhoun arrived at a conclusion that to him seems obvious: China has made its “zero-COVID” policy a political objective, and is systematically falsifying data to prop up the claim.
“Somebody put a message out at the end of the first quarter in 2020 and said, ‘Okay, we want to see zero COVID. That’s our policy.’ And it became zero COVID,” he said.
The first “smoking gun” is a sudden drop in COVID-19 deaths since April 2020 from mainland China after a “raging” rate of infection, Calhoun said.
From April 18, 2020, to Jan. 8, 2022, more than 35,000 cases were reported in mainland China (excluding asymptomatic cases), according to official data from China’s National Health Commission. Only four deaths were recorded over the same period.
By comparison, Hong Kong, which counted about half as many COVID-19 infections over the period, has reported 213 deaths to date.
The case fatality rate (the proportion of those infected who died) in Wuhan during the first three months of the pandemic averaged around 7.7 percent, more than five times that of the United States and four times the world average.
Two scenarios are possible: either the virus was “far more deadly in early 2020 in Wuhan than anywhere else, at any other time,” or alternatively, the official infection numbers from China were too small by a factor of three or four, Calhoun said.
Over the subsequent 20 months, there’s been a consistent lack of COVID-19 data from China. As of September 2021, China has become the world’s only country that hasn’t provided complete data on excess mortality—unexplained deaths beyond normal trends that can offer a crude estimate of uncounted COVID deaths, a survey from the University of Washington shows.
The Economist model seeks to make up for that data gap. Based on the model, Calhoun said China’s excess mortality was off by about 17,000 percent. This discrepancy, he said, even surpasses those by countries mired in large-scale civil unrest, such as Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Venezuela. Venezuela, the highest of the four, has an estimated excess COVID-19 death ratio of 1,100 percent.
Undercounting virus deaths is widespread across countries. Based on The Economist’s model, the United States’ official tally is short by about 30 percent. But China’s case is extreme.
“They are through the roof,” Calhoun said of the discrepancy between China’s official figures and the estimated true death toll.
“Something’s driving that.”
While the virus might not be all to blame for the jump, tight-lipped Chinese authorities have offered few clues as to what else might have happened.
Calhoun’s estimate coincides with anecdotal evidence from local residents, troves of internal documents leaked to The Epoch Times, and research studies into the impact of the virus in China, all of which indicate that the official figures have been grossly understated.
During the early months when the pandemic first emerged in Wuhan, some of the city’s funeral home workers told The Epoch Times they were working nonstop to cremate bodies. In March, thousands of ash urns were delivered to one of the crematoriums, when the official death number was over 2,000. The authorities raised the fatality figure by 50 percent a month later, attributing the gap to administrative inefficiencies.
A study published in The Lancet last March said that as many as 968,800 people in Wuhan had antibodies by April 2020, which would mean they had been infected by the virus and developed immunity.
The data inconsistencies aren’t limited to Wuhan. During a two-week period in February 2020, an internal document from Shandong health authorities showed that close to 2,000 people had tested positive for the virus, but only 755 infections were publicly recorded.
Leaked documents suggest that the regime has continued to deem virus control a political task.
In files recently obtained by The Epoch Times, a top Chinese official of Shaanxi Province, where the virus-hit Xi’an is the capital, ordered the “toughest measures” to be put in place to block the virus’s further spread from Xi’an. With the Beijing Winter Olympics coming up, a spillover would create “systemic risk” and “smear the national image,” the document reads.
Update: This article has been updated with case number and death toll data from China’s National Health Commission, whose numbers differ from those provided by sources such as the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which this article previously cited.