Friday, February 21, 2020

Can China's Numbers Be Trusted? More Revisions In Coronavirus Cases

China Forced To Revise Number Of Virus Cases Sharply Higher After Hubei Caught Undercounting New Infections

China's desperate attempts to manipulate coronavirus "data" lower to ease public fears about a runaway pandemic and get more people back to work, are crossing into the outright laughable, if not surreal.
As a reminder, earlier this week, China's Hubei province where the quarantined epicenter of the covid-19 epidemic, Wuhan, is located, once again changed the definition of a coronavirus "infection" in pursuit of a lower number of new cases by defining a case as "confirmed" if it stems from a positive result in a nucleic acid test, not if it was clinically diagnosed by physicians, a reversal of the definition change it adopted just  a week earlier which resulted in the biggest daily increase yet, when nearly 15,000 new cases were reported. Sure enough, this led to a plunge in new cases, with Hubei reporting just 411 new cases on Thursday and 349 new cases on Friday, sharply lower from the 1,000+ cases reported on previous days.
There is just one problem: at the same time as Hubei was priding itself in its sharp drop off in "confirmed" cases (carefully 'doctored' definition of new cases notwithstanding), a new breakout was been observed in the local Hubei prison system. And, problematically, for the brand new leadership of the Hubei Health Commission, it appeared that none of these cases were actually accounted for in the official province-level data.

So what does Hubei do? Well, late on Friday the province which has now lost all credibility in the "data" it is reporting, was forced to once again revise the data, higher of course, to account for the "missing" prison cases.
Specifically, per a press release late on Friday, Hubei did the following:
  • It revised the number of new "confirmed" cases on Thursday upward to 631 from 411 after including 220 cases in the local prison system (source)
  • It revised the number of new "confirmed" cases on Wednesday upward to 775 from 349, after accounting for the previously unaccounted for cases in the local prison system (source)
And visually:

Then, just to make sure the confusion is complete, Hubei also said that in addition to prison cases that had been previously unaccounted for, the provincial health system said some cities of the province "had deducted from their Feb. 19 count the number of previously confirmed cases per the nation’s revised guidelines published Feb. 18; their wrong method was discovered Feb. 20 and asked to stop."
As a result of all these changes, the cumulative number of total cases rose from 62,442 reported initially to 62,662 initially, and then one day later, the revision was from 62,662 to 63,008 for Feb 20.

The goal is simple: restore confidence among the general population that Beijing has the disease under control.
The irony, of course, is that the more China manipulates the data, the less anyone will believe a positive outcome for the epidemic and will instead claim that this is just the result of Chinese propaganda: "It points to a rather concerning confusion over how best to officially report the number of cases, leading to a loss of confidence in the true numbers,” said Jeffrey Halley, a Singapore-based senior market analyst with Oanda Asia Pacific Pte. "That could mean that internationally, the rest of the world keeps China in lockdown for longer, which will not be good for the ‘V-shaped recovery’ projections."

The answer of course, is obvious: there is an order of magnitude more cases in Hubei - and China - than is officially reported, although what that number is the world's population will likely never know and instead it will have to rely on proxy indicators such as what is going on in South Korea to get an accurate assessment of just how bad, and deadly, the coronavirus pandemic truly is.
One final point: according to the Global Times, about 72 medical teams from other regions of China have been dispatched to these temporary hospitals to aid local colleagues to treat patients and contain the virus spread. Would China be doing this if the epidemic in Hubei was about to be "contained"? We leave the obvious answer to our readers.

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