China may have 640,000 coronavirus cases instead of 84,000, suggests leaked data from military institute

It has been repeatedly suggested that the Chinese government is hiding the true figures to burnish its global image

                            China may have 640,000 coronavirus cases instead of 84,000, suggests leaked data from military institute
(Getty Images)

China may have suffered several hundred thousand more cases of COVID-19 than they have publicly reported, leaked data from the country's military seems to indicate.

As per the Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus live-tracker, China has said it has had 84,029 cases and 4,637 deaths from COVID-19, but it has been repeatedly suggested that its government is hiding the true figures to burnish its global image.

Data obtained by Foreign Policy from Chinese military's National University of Defense Technology, which publishes a data-tracker for the coronavirus in the country, seems to show the country may have had as many as 640,000 cases.

Foreign Policy said the dataset contains 640,000 individual entries taken from at least 230 cities across China and that each entry contained latitude, longitude, and 'confirmed' number of cases at the location on a specific date, which ranges from early February to late April. For locations in and around Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, it included information about deaths and those who “recovered.”

The data also had locations of hospitals, apartment compounds, hotels, supermarkets, railway stations, restaurants, churches, and schools across the breadth of the country, as well as one case of coronavirus in a KFC in the eastern city of Zhenjiang on March 14.

It is as reliable data as one can get from China considering how the Chinese Communist Party often acts in secrecy and has reportedly been aggregated from the country's health ministry, the National Health Commission, media reports, and other public sources.

The university's website further states that it is "under the direct leadership of the Central Military Commission," the body that oversees China's military, which has been extensively involved in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The man believed to be responsible for the data is Zhang Haisu, a director at the university's Information and Communication Department who was credited for building the "Fight the Virus to Return to Work Database" and was praised for his dedication.

If each entry accounted for one case, that would mean at least 640,000 cases of the virus have been recorded in the country. That number could be even higher considering one of the entries contained two cases of COVID-19, reported at a church in the northeastern provincial capital of Harbin on March 17.

However, at the same time, they could be lower as well since inconsistencies in data-gathering methods could mean that single cases could have been counted multiple times and skewed the figures.

The data set has not defined what was classified as a "confirmed" case of the virus either, which has led to discrepancies in reporting of cases in other countries too.

The news came as the FBI and CISA warned China was targeting organizations that are conducting COVID-19-related research in the US and had observed "actors attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with this sensitive research."

John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, had said China's actions had a political motive.

"China has long engaged in the theft of biomedical research, and covid-19 research is the field’s Holy Grail right," he said. "The geopolitical significance of being the first to develop a treatment or vaccine means the Chinese will try to use every tool -- both cyber intrusions and insiders -- to get it."

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