The number of people infected with Covid-19 in Wuhan, cradle of the pandemic, would be 10 times higher than the official toll announced so far by Beijing, according to a study by the Chinese authorities.
Until now, the official toll of contamination by Covid-19 in Wuhan, cradle of the pandemic, stood at 50,000 people. But a study by Chinese authorities has just questioned this figure.
According to serological tests carried out in April after the peak of the epidemic, 4.43% of Wuhan residents were carriers of antibodies, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in its study. Clearly, the body of these people had reacted to the presence of the virus.
Compared to the 11 million inhabitants of the city, this percentage of 4.43% would mean that around 480,000 people were infected: it is almost ten times more than the official report of 50,000 contaminations.
An underestimation of cases?
The difference may be related to “an underestimation of cases during the chaos of late January and early February, when a lot of people weren’t tested or the tests weren’t reliable,” Huang Yanzhong said, public health specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank.
The new coronavirus appeared at the end of last year in the city of central China, quarantined for 76 days from January 23, 2020. Wuhan is by far the most affected city in China by the virus , which killed 4,634 people across the country according to the official record, including nearly 4,000 in the city on the banks of the Yangtze.
The national total of contaminations was just over 87,000, according to the latest official report released Wednesday. The last death was reported in China in mid-May, when the virus had already spread around the world, infecting more than 81 million people, including 1.79 million fatally.
But China does not include asymptomatic people in its balance sheets, which also explains part of the gap between the official count and the number of people carrying antibodies.
Qin Ying, a serology expert at the China Center for Disease Control, explained that these discrepancies were not specific to the Asian country. “Several countries have already published similar serological studies and in most cases the carriers of antibodies were several times more numerous than the confirmed results”, she assured.
A total of 34,000 people were tested in the study published Monday. According to its results, the contamination rate peaked in April at 0.44% in the rest of Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. The whole province was under quarantine until the end of March, Wuhan until the beginning of April.
In six other provinces and metropolises of the country, tests carried out on 12,000 people revealed only two cases of contamination.
These figures confirm that the epidemic has been largely confined to the city of Wuhan, while the Chinese power has practically paralyzed the economy of the whole country for several weeks in order to stem the contagion.
By way of comparison, the virus prevalence rate reached 23% last September in New York, one of the most affected cities in the United States.
Towards a new confinement?
Paradoxically, its successful fight against the virus means that China will have to rely more on vaccines for its population to achieve collective immunity, according to Huang Yanzhong. “It is likely that when Western countries return to normalcy next fall, China will have to isolate itself from the outside world again,” he predicts.
China has been criticized for handling the outbreak’s early days. In December 2019, doctors in Wuhan who had reported a replica of the Sars were summoned by police who accused them of spreading false rumors.
A “citizen journalist”, Zhang Zhan, who had covered the quarantine in Wuhan, was sentenced Monday, December 28, to four years in prison for “provoking unrest”.