China’s True COVID-19 Death Toll 366 Times Higher Than Official Figure, Economist Says

The Chinese regime has likely understated the COVID-19 death rate by as much as 17,000 percent in a systematic data suppression campaign to sustain its political image, an analysis by a U.S. economist has found. 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 on the books. That’s 366 times the official figure. A vast majority of those officially recorded deaths—about 97 percent—came from Wuhan during the first three months of the pandemic, with only hundreds more reported in the rest of the country. The Chinese regime only reported two additional deaths since April 1, 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 America, gave George Calhoun pause. “That’s impossible. It’s medically impossible, it’s statistically impossible,” Calhoun, director of the quantitative finance program at Stevens Institute of Technology, told NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times. Passengers wearing masks arrive at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai on March 19, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images) “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 and 2020 and said, ‘Okay, we want to see zero-COVID. That’s our policy.’ And it became zero-COVID,” he said. Anomalies The first “smoking gun” is a sudden drop of COVID-19 deaths since April 2020 from mainland China after a “raging” rate of infection, Calhoun said. From April 1, 2020, to Jan. 8, 2022, over 22,102 cases have been reported in mainland China, according to data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Only two deaths were recorded over the same period. By comparison, Hong Kong, which counted about half as many COVID-19 infections over the period, reported 213 deaths. 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 higher than that of the United States and four times the world average. Case fatality rate in Wuhan in comparison with other parts of the world. (Courtesy of George Calhoun) 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 following 20 months, there has been a consistent lack of COVID-19 data from China. As of September, China has become the world’s only country that has not 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. Based on a model developed by The Economist, Calhoun said China’s excess mortality was off by about 17,000 percent, which would mean that the authorities reported only 1 percent of the total number of COVID-19 deaths. This discrepancy, he added, surpasses those even by countries mired in large-scale civil unrest, such as Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Venezuela, which has undercounted the COVID-19 mortality rate by up to 1,100 percent. Excess mortality for China and several other countries. (Courtesy of George Calhoun) 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,” Calhoun said. While the virus might not be all to blame for the jump, tight-lipped Chinese authorities have offered few clues as to what might have happened otherwise. 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 broke out in China’s 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

China’s True COVID-19 Death Toll 366 Times Higher Than Official Figure, Economist Says

The Chinese regime has likely understated the COVID-19 death rate by as much as 17,000 percent in a systematic data suppression campaign to sustain its political image, an analysis by a U.S. economist has found.

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 on the books. That’s 366 times the official figure.

A vast majority of those officially recorded deaths—about 97 percent—came from Wuhan during the first three months of the pandemic, with only hundreds more reported in the rest of the country.

The Chinese regime only reported two additional deaths since April 1, 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 America, gave George Calhoun pause.

“That’s impossible. It’s medically impossible, it’s statistically impossible,” Calhoun, director of the quantitative finance program at Stevens Institute of Technology, told NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Passengers wearing masks arrive at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai on March 19, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

“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 and 2020 and said, ‘Okay, we want to see zero-COVID. That’s our policy.’ And it became zero-COVID,” he said.

Anomalies

The first “smoking gun” is a sudden drop of COVID-19 deaths since April 2020 from mainland China after a “raging” rate of infection, Calhoun said.

From April 1, 2020, to Jan. 8, 2022, over 22,102 cases have been reported in mainland China, according to data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Only two deaths were recorded over the same period.

By comparison, Hong Kong, which counted about half as many COVID-19 infections over the period, reported 213 deaths.

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 higher than that of the United States and four times the world average.

CFR-in-Wuhan--Before---After-April-1-2020_960x0
CFR-in-Wuhan--Before---After-April-1-2020_960x0
Case fatality rate in Wuhan in comparison with other parts of the world. (Courtesy of George Calhoun)

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 following 20 months, there has been a consistent lack of COVID-19 data from China. As of September, China has become the world’s only country that has not 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.

Based on a model developed by The Economist, Calhoun said China’s excess mortality was off by about 17,000 percent, which would mean that the authorities reported only 1 percent of the total number of COVID-19 deaths. This discrepancy, he added, surpasses those even by countries mired in large-scale civil unrest, such as Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Venezuela, which has undercounted the COVID-19 mortality rate by up to 1,100 percent.

chart excess mortality china and other countries
chart excess mortality china and other countries
Excess mortality for China and several other countries. (Courtesy of George Calhoun)

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,” Calhoun said.

While the virus might not be all to blame for the jump, tight-lipped Chinese authorities have offered few clues as to what might have happened otherwise.

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 broke out in China’s 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.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Medical staff wear protective clothing to protect against a CCP virus patient at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 25, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

A study published in The Lancet last March said as many as 968,800 people in Wuhan had antibodies by April 2020, which would mean they developed immunity to the virus after being infected.

The data inconsistencies are not limited to Wuhan alone. 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 as 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’ 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 read.

Eva Fu

China Reporter

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Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at eva.fu@epochtimes.com
David Zhang

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