The Tragedy of Trusting False Numbers

April 21, 2020 Updated: May 6, 2020

Michael Pillsbury: Dr. Fauci has talked about how he has been on the phone with China over the last two months. A lot of the data we get from the models are based on China’s official data. Dr. Birx has talked about the data coming from China.

Narration: Both America and the world have been reliant on China’s numbers for establishing models for the pandemic. But just how reliable are these numbers?

Caixin wrote on multiple days, trucks delivered 2,500 urns to a government-run funeral home. There are 8 funeral homes in Wuhan. However the total official death toll in Wuhan is only 2500.

Simone Gao: So can you tell me what we would have done differently if we knew the true picture of the pandemic?

Eric Ding: Knowing what we know now, obviously we should have clampdown earlier.

Title: The Tragedy of Trusting False Numbers

Host: Now that the United States is deep in the throes of grappling with the pandemic, the communist regime has started a political offensive. The Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, is chanting its vile song, laced with propaganda displacing blame and aggrandizing itself. Will it succeed once again? What does the world need to know about the extent to which the CCP has covered up the disaster? And what is the dire result for those who believe in it? I’m Simone Gao, and please join us for our in depth analysis about the tragedy of trusting false numbers, on this episode of Zooming In.

Part One, The Disaster of Deception

Narration: 3 months into the outbreak of the CCP virus, also called the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, explained how the United States coordinated its initial response.

Dr. Deborah Birx: When you looked at the China data originally, with 50,000 infected in an area of China with 80 million people, you start thinking of this more like SARS than you do a global pandemic.

The medical community interpreted the Chinese data as, this was serious, but smaller than anyone expected, Because, probably…we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that we see what happened to Italy and we see what happened to Spain.

Narration: Just how bad might the real numbers be? Zooming In has preliminary calculations based on a phone call made by NTD investigators to one of the Wuhan funeral homes on February 4. On that particular day, the funeral home received 127 bodies, and cremated 116 of them. The funeral worker said the volume is 4 to 5 times bigger than before the epidemic broke out. This rate of high volume started on January 23. He also said 38% of corpses they picked up were from hospitals, and 61% died at home. The funeral worker said his superior ordered that the number of bodies they received recently could not be revealed to the outside world.

According to China’s official records, 131 people are expected to die in Wuhan every day. Wuhan has 7 funeral homes, and they can cremate 135 bodies daily on average. Based on this information, we concluded that since Jan 25, 2020, about when the funeral worker said the number of bodies arriving at the funeral home started to rise, roughly 470 people died of CCP virus every day in Wuhan. From Jan 25 to Feb 12 alone, over 8000 people could have died from the disease in the city of Wuhan.

Radio Free Asia’s estimate is that in Wuhan alone, about 42,000 people died from the CCP virus.

Host: Experts have come up with different estimates of the actual numbers in China. However, one piece of solid evidence exists that shows Wuhan, the epicenter in China, has greatly understated the death toll. And the story was ironically broken by a Chinese media outlet, called Caixin.

Narration: On March 26, Caixin published a feature story about one of Wuhan’s funeral homes.

It is customary to cremate the dead in Chinese culture. In the Caixin report, it said that family members are finally allowed to pick up the remains of their deceased relatives. Caixin wrote that on multiple days, trucks delivered 2,500 urns to a government-run funeral home every day. Photos on social media, which were quickly censored, showed long lines of family members outside the buildings. Caixin reported that some of the people claimed they waited 5 hours in line to pick up their urn. Other photos showed workers stacking 3,500 urns in one facility. There are 7 funeral homes in Wuhan.

This picture alone seriously undermines the Wuhan government’s reported total death toll of 2,500.

Bumper: Coming up, how could the world react differently if the CCP had told the truth in the early days?

Part 2 Where Would We Be if We Knew the Truth?

Host: The Chinese authorities have been suppressing the truth of this pandemic, despite the fact that they themselves don’t even know the full truth. Just like during the SARS outbreak, each local government was under pressure from the top leadership to maintain an image of social stability. Because of this, they reported understated numbers to the central government, and the central government also altered numbers to suit their taste. These are the numbers that are published to the world. China expert Michael Pillsbury said in an interview on fox that the top medical authorities in America all relied on China’s numbers.

Michael Pillsbury: But when we depend on them so much, Dr. Fauci has talked about how he has been on the phone with China over the last two months. A lot of the data we get from the models…Dr. Birx has talked about the data coming from China.

Host: Just how would the world be different if China didn’t cover up the outbreak? I spoke with public health scientist Eric Feigl Ding, He is the Chief Health Economist for Microclinic International.

Ms. Gao: Dr. Deborah Birx said in the White House press briefing that, “When you looked at the China data originally, with 50,000 infected in an area of China with 80 million people, you start thinking of this more like SARS than you do a global pandemic. The medical community interpreted the Chinese data as, this was serious, but smaller than anyone expected, Because, probably…we were missing a significant amount of the data.” So could you tell me what we would have done differently if we knew the true picture of the pandemic, if the CCP revealed all the information at the early stage?

Eric Ding: Yeah. In terms of the epidemic, I think China obviously made a few missteps and tried to silence Dr. Li Wenliang and the slow reaction at the end of December whenever they should have moved quickly at the end of the summer just stopped the epidemic. And by the first half of January, the epidemic was already booming in many parts of Wuhan and other parts of China. So we knew by late December, early January that there was definitely an epidemic, but the world did not know the full scope. So how do we know then? Maybe other countries could take in measures sooner if they knew it was so serious and that the degree of severity was always a mystery. Was this just a bad pneumonia or was this seriously a very dangerous virus that was much more dangerous than a regular pneumonia? That said, South Korea had their first case as the United States on the same day, I think January 15 or 16.

But look at South Korea now, they put in very aggressive testing. The U.S. did not. Their aggressive testing has basically finally flattened the curve and actually not just flatten the curve. South Korea has crushed the curve, because in Daegu, the epicenter where the South Korean megachurch was, for the first time in a long time, Daegu had zero cases yesterday. Zero new cases despite very detailed testing. So that’s a sign that even in the hottest epicenter, South Korea has fought it off, and South Korea had their first case at the same time as the United States. But look at the United States right now, we’ve clearly not aggressively acted enough, whether from testing portal perspective or mitigation and contact tracing containment perspective. We did not do all those things well. South Korea did aggressive early testing. Even before the megachurch epidemic, South Korea had very aggressive testing and very aggressive contact tracing. They actually have an app that systematically contacts traces very quickly. We had neither of these here in the United States.

Ms. Gao: Yeah I don’t know if South Korea and places like Taiwan had a different opinion on whether the Chinese data was trustworthy. After all, before Italy’s outbreak, even when America and South Korea had their first cases, all the reference we got is China. If we trusted their numbers we would have a false sense of security which we did. So do you think if we didn’t trust their numbers or if they didn’t cover up in the early stage we would have taken more draconian measures such as shutting down the entire country very early?

Mr. Ding: In certain ways. You know, if we know everything, hindsight is always 20/20, right? We would always have the perfect answer for everything. If we knew what would happen under certain scenarios. The part of life and governance is making these predictions and making these calls, as they’d go with incomplete information and lack of clarity of the future. And so, knowing what we know now, obviously we should have clamped down earlier. At the same time, I was one of the whistleblowers early in mid January because I saw that this was a danger. But obviously, you know, governments didn’t heed my warnings. But again, look at South Korea. They did blanket testing very early. Look at Iceland, blanket testing very early.

And even there was a case in the Faroe islands in North of Norway. It’s a part of Denmark. Faroe Islands had some hundreds of cases, and one scientist did aggressive testing of 10% of the entire population. And now the epidemic is nowhere to be seen in the daily batches of tests. And their schools are open. Their children are playing sports. But at that moment, they did not have complete information like we do now, but they moved in favor of crisis management. This is where good governance makes a huge, huge difference. And if we had the governance and scientific leadership like some of these countries did, and listening to science, the scientists that we need to test aggressively, develop laboratory tests very quickly, and aggressively contact trace every single positive test and to quarantine them, we could have defeated it as well.

Host: I also asked Dr. Sean Lin these questions. He is a microbiologist trained in both China and America. And he is the former lab director of the viral disease branch of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Ms. Gao: I spoke with Dr. Eric Feigl Ding about the impact of China’s early coverup. His opinion is that although China had some earlier missteps, they didn’t report the epidemic earlier enough, but the U.S. has also handled the epidemic poorly. An example is South Korea had its first case the same days as the U.S.. but because they did a lot of testing so they ended up in the much better position than the U.S.. What is your opinion?

Dr. Sean Lin: So actually I don’t think it’s totally fair to compare the situation in South Korea with that of the United States. South Korea did pretty well in the contact tracing, doing large quantities of tests for infections. But we need to keep in mind that South Korea is a small country with about 50 million people. Basically they only need to deal with the tourists coming from China, the source of the infection. But the United States is different. For example, New York City has such a big airport with so many people from all over the world coming to the United States. Early cases in New York came from a group of tourists who went to Egypt and brought back the virus. So it’s very challenging for New York City. And people rely on the metro subway system heavily, so the virus can spread out quickly through these commute systems.

We also need to keep in mind that the United States was fortunate enough to ban travel from China in late January. But you cannot ban travel from all over the world. So the control over bringing the virus into the country is very challenging. And also, even though the CDC was not fortunate enough to provide testing kits in February, later on commercial companies engaged in the United States were able to crank up the production, and now the U.S. can test millions of cases every week. The quantity of testing is unbelievably big in the United States now. So, I don’t think it’s really fair to say the U.S. did a poor job in disease control.

Ms. Gao: So what do you think is the impact of China’s coverup and false numbers to the world?

Dr. Lin: So the CCP’s coverup during this pandemic has multiple stages. The first stage is from December to January 23, before the Chinese government shut down the whole Wuhan city. During this stage, the CCP censored the alerts from the medical first responders and closed online forums that talked about the outbreak. They even ordered the commercial companies to stop genome sequencing for those patients’ samples. At the same time, they provided misleading information to the world. Basically, under this coverup, so many people in Wuhan got infected and they spread the virus nationwide, and so many tourists and Chinese people also toured to other countries. So the virus got spread globally. As a result, the whole world missed a very precious time to have early precautions and measures enacted early enough to prevent an outbreak in their own countries. The second stage is from late January to mid-March. The Chinese government set up very strict reporting criteria for confirmed cases, so there are much lower confirmed cases. At the same time, because of the draconian measures to lock people down at home, they missed so many testing opportunities for those who got infected but could not go to the hospitals, [not to mention that] people who died at home would not be counted as official data for the death toll. So basically the government manipulated or, you may say, fabricated the data for the death toll of the confirmed cases. The whole world got a wrong image about this outbreak. The CCP downplayed a very severe outbreak that could be like the Spanish Flu, and they downgraded it to something like the 2009 H1N1 pandemic outbreak. The severity is totally different. So when you put in this wrong data in the disease model, you get the wrong result of the mortality rate. The attack rate will be wrong, and the transmission rate will be wrong too. In this way, the whole world got the wrong idea that the disease would not be so severe [as] a huge pandemic. So by fabricating this data, the Chinese government made the whole world pay a huge price for this coverup. The third stage is all the way up to the end of March, where the Chinese government presented a false image to the Chinese people and the rest of the world, saying that they now have a triumph against the virus, against the outbreak. But the reality is that they are actually incubating a huge second wave. The Chinese government didn’t want to do large scale testing for one reason – they know they have very pathetic inaccuracy for the testing kits. At the same time, not testing so many people served their political purpose. The CCP just doesn’t want to show people that there are so many infections still ongoing inside China. When the CCP lied, so many people died.

Narration: BBC reported on March 29 that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is furious over China’s handling of the Coronavirus. Scientists have reportedly told Johnson that China could have up to 40 times the number of cases it says. The report suggested that the UK’s anger could lead to them cutting off business deals with Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Other governments have also spoken of repercussions. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the press briefing that there will be an after-action regarding China’s early coverup of the disease.

Mike Pompeo: It took an awful long time for the world to become aware of this risk that was sitting there, residing inside of China. We’ll do the after-action when the time is right. Every nation has a responsibility to share all of their data, all of their information in as timely and accurate a fashion as they have the ability to do.

Narration: U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a resolution calling for an international investigation into the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) coverup of the early spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Senator Hawley’s resolution calls on China to pay back all nations impacted because China lied about the spread of the virus.

U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) is introducing companion legislation in the House.

Bumper: Coming up, a world factory offensive.

Part 3 A World Factory Offensive

Host: While the world grows more and more angry with China’s cover up of the pandemic, China has, on the other hand, launched a world factory offensive. It vacuumed up global supplies of medical equipment through donations, and has kept Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, within the Chinese borders since the beginning of its crisis. Now it is making products to sell back to the rest of the world.

Narration: China’s custom agency announced that it had inspected around 2 billion imported masks and 25 million protective suits since the beginning of the outbreak. At the same time, it is shipping domestically produced equipment to Europe.

China’s economy relies heavily on export manufacturing. Without its massive fleet of factories, the CCP has nothing else to keep its economy afloat. Now everything else has shut down, the only flourishing line of shipment is PPE. By shipping PPE to other countries, the CCP is reminding the world: not only have they handled the virus well but they keep producing too. That narrative, however, is being challenged now.

On March 21, the Netherlands received 1.3 million masks purchased from China. On March 28, 600,000 of these masks were recalled. Some of those masks had been given to frontline health workers. The reason was that the masks did not fit properly or had defective filters. The Health Ministry later told AFP that none of the shipment was being used.

The low quality of Chinese goods is not strange to the world. Recently some videos that went viral on the internet further dampened people’s confidence in Chinese goods.

This video showed a Woman showing dirty masks with dead flies on it, bought from Aokang Sanitary Material Co., Ltd. in Henan China on Mar. 17. She says she runs an e-merchandise platform. She bought 350,000 masks, most of them have been sold to overseas countries. She reported this issue to the Hua County Business Supervision Bureau, where Aokang is located. But the government didn’t dare to upset the company, which has a capacity of producing 1.3 M masks per day. Local media also dared not report her case.

There have also been issues with other medical supplies made in China. In Spain, nearly 60,000 Chinese-made test kits were withdrawn. The reason was that these kits were correct in about 3 out of 10 tests. Local Spanish media reported that test kits are supposed to be correct in over 8 out of 10 tests.

Turkey reported a similar issue on March 27, saying that the rapid testing kits purchased from China did not meet local effectiveness standards.

In the Czech Republic, police raided a warehouse on March 16, confiscating illegally trafficked face masks. The warehouse was owned by a Chinese businessman with strong ties to the CCP. The warehouse held 680,000 face masks and 28,000 ventilators. 100,000 of the masks were labeled as Chinese Red Cross aid to Italy. According to Czech media, the businessman sold the masks to local resellers, who attempted to sell them to the government at twice the normal price. This behavior by the CCP and those with close ties has aptly been named “Mask Diplomacy”.

Host: We talked a lot about if the CCP hadn’t covered up the outbreak in the early days, and if they didn’t put out false numbers, what the world would be like. But that premise might be wrong. The Chinese Communist Party and any Communist regime that has ever existed on this planet all have their fixed ways of doing things. The reason for that is because their ultimate goal, their core interest has never changed, that is: to stay in power regardless of the cost to its people, or the rest of the world. Will the world wake up to that after this pandemic? Will a post-coronavirus era also become a post-CCP era? Stay tuned for Zooming In’s continued coverage. I am Simone Gao. Thanks for watching and see you next time.

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