Wuhan death toll massively under-counted?

Speaking April 14 at COVIDCon, an online Oslo Freedom Forum event presented by the Human Rights Foundation, exiled Chinese dissident Yang Jianli of the DC-based Citizen Power Initiatives for China charged that the death toll for Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 outbreak began, was massively under-counted by authorities. In a talk entitled "The Chinese Communist Party: Savior or Culprit?," Yang portrayed a far-reaching cover-up by the Beijing regime. Citing his monitoring of social media, Yang said that as Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on March 10, "endless Wuhan residents pleaded for help online, saying hospitals were overflowing and their family members were turned away and left to die at home. Nobody knows how many people died before managing to get to hospitals."

"During that time, photos circulated on the internet, showing people lying in the streets in Wuhan, dead or fainted," Yang related. "Photos also showed that those who violated quarantine orders or showed symptoms were forcibly removed by local police from homes, or forcibly imprisoned inside their homes. Those who did not wear masks in public, were shamed publicly or beaten up."

Yang noted the widespread claims that the number of families reported to have collected remains of loved ones throws the official death toll into question. "There are obvious clues that he Chinese government is concealing the extent of the virus outbreak, and the casualties in China," Yang said. "On March 23, the government authorized family members to collect the ashes of the dead in Wuhan. For 12 days...3,500 urns were handed out each day. Totaling 42,000 deaths. The number is a shocking discrepancy with the official Wuhan death tally of 2,524. More than 15 times more people died than officially admitted."

Yang did not give a source for these figures, but they appear to be extrapolated from media coverage based on social media posts from Wuhan.

"The first recorded case in Wuhan was Nov. 17, 2019. The authorities waited more than two months to shut down the city on Jan. 23, 2020," Yang noted. He asserts that authorities "demanded destruction of lab samples" of the virus on Jan. 1. "Despite multiple cases of transmission, they denied human-to-human transmission until three weeks later."

Yang portrays the cover-up as enabled by the closed nature of the Chinese system and state control of the mass media.

"A state-run journal revealed that Xi Jinping knew about the epidemic on Jan. 7. And on that day at the Politburo meeting, Xi Jinping gave a comprehensive order for the government's response. We don't know exactly what the order was. But from the government's actions in the next two weeks, we can deduce that at the core of the order was an extensive cover-up for the sake of stability." The name of the journal was not identified.

"On Jan. 23, the day the lockdown was declared, the People's Daily newspaper did not mention the lockdown, but instead headlined the news that Xi Jinping hosted a grand New Year party, at which he did not mention a word about Wuhan or the virus outbreak."

Whistle-blowers 'disappeared'
The cover-up was also effected through quick repression of any dissenting voices. Among "heroes who emerged to challenge the regime," Yang named, first and foremost, the martyred physician Li Wenliang.

"On Dec. 31, the eye doctor Li Wenliang and seven other doctors, all from Wuhan Central Hospital, started blowing the whistle. They were quickly reprimanded by the authorities for propagating rumors. The state-controlled media doubled down by publicly humiliating them, claiming the doctors were stirring up trouble... Dr Li Wenliang died of the virus on Feb. 7."

"The second whistle-blower, Dr. Mei Zhongming, died of the virus on March 1. We have been unable to determine the fate of the other six whistle-blowers."

Yang went on to name others. Ai Fen, the head of the emergency room at Wuhan Central Hospital, "went public saying authorities has stopped her and her colleagues from warning the world about the virus outbreak. She has disappeared."

Xu Zhangrun, a Tsinghua University law professor, was put under house arrest after posting online an article entitled "The Angry People are No Longer Afraid," in which he "declared that the coronavirus has exposed the bankruptcy of China's rulers."

Xu Zhiyong, a leader of China's dissident New Citizens' Movement, "was arrested after calling for Xi Jinping to step down." Yang also named Chen Qiushi, a lawyer and "citizen journalist" who had covered the 2019 Hong Kong protests. "He disappeared after documenting and reporting the true situation in Wuhan."

The last entry of disappeared dissidents is perhaps the least likely one—Ren Zhiqiang, identified by Yang as a "property tycoon."  wrote that Xi Jinping is a power-hungry clown, and that his strict limits on free speech had exacerbated the epidemic. He is detained along with his assistant and his son."

In an implicit reference to official Chinese attempts to spin the response to COVID-19 as a victory, first nationally and now internationally, Yang concluded: "It is undeniable that China's government prioritized covering up the virus instead of addressing it immediately. Its dangerous and selfish behavior has led the controllable outbreak to become a global pandemic, killing hundreds of thousands and plunging the entire world into a total catastrophe... The Chinese regime and its leader Xi Jinping are not saviors in this pandemic. They are the culprits. They put power and control above human lives."

By World Health Organization figures, the global death toll of COVID-19 now stands at 123,010.

Wuhan death toll rises 50%

Wuhan’s prevention and control taskforce have revised the death toll in Wuhan upwards by 50%, from 2,579 to 3,869. The updated figure comes after weeks of scepticism about the reported death toll, as other countries have seen fatalities reach more than 10,000.

The agency said reasons for the change included adding the number of patients unable to reach hospitals, as well as difficulty linking information reported from private hospitals, temporary hospitals and other medical institutions that handled patients. (The Guardian)

RAND: China COVID toll massively under-reported

A new report from the RAND Corporation finds that COVID-19 cases in China were likely 37 times higher than reported in January. 

Many people have raised concerns about the accuracy of COVID-19 data from China. In this report, we present strong evidence that China's reported COVID-19 caseload was undercounted by a factor of nearly 40. Based on officially reported cases in China in January 2020, the odds of the novel coronavirus appearing by January 22, 2020, in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, and Taiwan—as it did—would have been minuscule.

Dissident professor detained in China

A professor who criticized China's handling of the coronavirus crisis has been detained by authorities. Xu Zhangrun, who has been under house arrest, was taken away from his Beijing home on July 6, friends said. (BBC News)

China court sentences real estate mogul to 18 years

The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court sentenced real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang to 18 years imprisonment following a secretive trial. Ren was found guilty of corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. His actions allegedly led to losses of about 116.7 million yuan for the state-owned property company, Hua Yuan Property Company, for which he was the former chairman.

Ren was previously a state-owned company employee, and he was also the son of a ministry official, with close ties with senior party leaders. Ren had a reputation for being outspoken and critical of the Chinese government, which earned him the nickname "The Cannon" on Chinese social media.

He went missing in March after he wrote an essay critiquing the Chinese government's handling of COVID-19. (Jurist)

Wuhan death toll massively under-counted: report

The scale of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan early this year may have been nearly 10 times the recorded tally, a study conducted by China's public health authorities indicates, leaving the city where the coronavirus first took hold still well short of the immunity required to protect against a potential resurgence.

About 4.4% of those tested were found to have COVID-19 antibodies, indicating they were infected some time in the past, according to a serological survey of more than 34,000 people conducted in April by the Chinese Center for Disease Control & Prevention. The data was released Dec. 28.

That ratio would suggest that with Wuhan home to about 11 million people, as many as 500,000 residents may have been infected, nearly 10 times more than the 50,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases reported by health authorities in mid-April, when the survey was conducted. (Bloomberg, The Hill)

WHO rebukes China for blocking investigator entry

World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus decried China's last-minute decision to block investigators who are researching the origin of the coronavirus. "Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team's arrivals in China," Tedros told reporters in a rare rebuke of Beijing. "I am very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute." (DW)

WHO team finally lands in Wuhan

More than a year after a new coronavirus first emerged in China, a team of experts from the World Health Organization finally arrived on Jan. 14 in the central city of Wuhan to begin hunting for its source. The Chinese government, notoriously wary of outside scrutiny, has repeatedly impeded the arrival of the team. (NYT)

COVID-19 'conspiracy theories' gain mainstream currency

The theories that we've explored here and here that the COVID-19 virus originated in a laboratory are fast being accepted by the mainstream. Recent media reports are focusing on comments to this effect by Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, which has received NIH funds to cooperate with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in so-called "gain-of-function" research on coronaviruses, also involving Ralph S. Baric of the University of North Carolina. The Washington Post has run a lengthy editorial calling for greater clarity from Chinese authorities in the investigation. The Organic Consumers Association also has a page providing an overiew of such experiments and their possible links to COVID-19.

WHO report leaves question of COVID origins unresolved

A joint World Health Organization-China report on the origins of the coronavirus says it most probably jumped from animals to humans via an intermediate animal host, and downplays the possibility it leaked from a lab. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN he has concerns about "the methodology and the process," including "the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it." 

The visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology lasted a few hours, according to scientists on the trip. They got a tour of the facility, heard about the lab's rigorous safety protocols and were told the lab was not working with viruses close to SARS-CoV-2.

One member of the team said in a post-trip television interview that researchers at the lab were sick in the fall of 2019 —a potentially interesting finding that had been raised by the Trump administration—but then dismissed its relevance and offered little else.

The final report states there was no direct infection of workers but does not go into detail or recommend further research on the topic.

It also notes that three laboratories in Wuhan were working with either coronavirus diagnostics or on isolation and vaccine development. All were "high quality" and "well managed," it said, but it did not specify if the joint mission saw additional evidence, such as audits, to substantiate the claims.

The report additionally notes that a Wuhan Center for Disease Control lab moved Dec. 2, 2019—a new detail—but that it "reported no disruptions or incidents caused by the move." (WaPo)

Origins of COVID-19 explored in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Acclaimed science writer Nicholas Wade has a rather heretical but inconveniently well-researched piece in a bona fide source, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?" He pokes convincing holes in the media consensus that the virus did not emerge from a laboratory—although even he dares not approach what we may call the MIHOP thesis (that release of the virus was intentional, and some sinister forces "made it happen on purpose"...)

Australian media hype over COVID-19 origin theory

Sharri Markson reports in The Australian on a 2015 People's Liberation Army document, The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons, which "predicted a third world war would be fought with biological weapons" and described SARS coronaviruses as heralding a "new era of genetic weapons." The viruses, it said, could be "artificially manipulated into an emerging human disease virus, then weaponised and unleashed in a way never seen before." Markson's new book, What Really Happened in Wuhan, will be published in September by HarperCollins.

While this is receiving much hype in Australia and India (Times of India, The Week Magazine), both countries notoriously on the outs with Beijing, China's own Global Times hits back, asserting that the "so-called leaked document obtained by the US State Department" was actually "on sale on Amazon, although it is out of stock." 

Biden orders investigation of COVID-19 origins

President Biden announced that he has ordered a closer intelligence review of what he said are two equally plausible origins of the COVID-19 virus—that it "emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” (CNBC) The move comes after Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, said he is "not convinced" the virus developed naturally. (The Hill) A new US intelligence report notes that three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care. (WSJ) Fauci is of course coming under attack in Chinese state media, with the Global Times calling him a "degenerate." (The Independent)