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How many people have died in China from Covid-19?

by DonyChristie1 min read30th Mar 20204 comments

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This article claims over 40,000 people have died in Wuhan alone. Is that true?

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CCP controlled China's statistics are very unreliable across many fields. Sometimes, more or less by chance, they are right. I came to this conclusion as a long time investor trying to understand their economy. These unreliable statistics have a long pedigree. Mao famously ordered every third field to be left fallow during the great leap forward, because there would be nowhere to store the bountiful harvests. Back in the real world, tens of millions died of starvation.

As with investors in the US before the SEC was created, making it harder to simply make up profit numbers, one must resort to indirect measures. I used to look at webcams in Wuhan but these have been shut down. The Tom Tom Wuhan traffic report still seems to be flatlining https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/wuhan-traffic

You can look at air quality reports over time which show some deterioration (suggesting more activity) https://www.windy.com/-NO2-no2?cams,no2,26.412,117.510,5

Another data source comes from anecdotal reports from Wuhan. For example, crematoria were worked off their feet, working more shifts, and were importing workers from other parts of China [this was reported at the time - I am not based this on the RFA report]. This would be strange if deaths were as reported, because the increase would only be a modest increment on the usual rate of deaths. Many of these sources have vanished from the scene, making our task more difficult. Foreign reporters have been thrown out and foreign citizens experience growing difficulties in staying in the country. This does prompt the question "If you have nothing to hide, why are you hiding it".

There are also anecdotal reports of hospitals and doctors being given quotas of Corona deaths they were allowed to report, etc.

This paper suggests there were many more cases than reported https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.03.20030593v1 and has references to other papers that used various indirect methods to make similar estimates. It is a lot harder to estimate deaths.

In terms of the credibility of RFA I don't have an opinion. But in general my Marketing 101 lecturer told us "If you have something to say, say it. Otherwise lie, or use show biz". It might be in this case they have something to say. Nothing in the story was a surprise to me.

All this is not very satisfactory. My probability distribution is very broad at the moment, with little weight on the official numbers. If I had to guess I would think somewhere between 3-10 times the official numbers died but without much confidence. In situations like this I find it helpful to hold onto the fact of uncertainty.

One might look for more hard-to-fake signals that things are under control such as the holding of the overdue CCP national congress, which was deferred (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/feb/24/coronavirus-china-wuhan-lockdown-economy-south-korea-npc-annual-parliament).

Perhaps in time we will be able to look at future census and population figures, or surveys to get an indirect idea of how many died. But please keep this secret or they will be faked too.

2Jiqi Liu8moThe official figure is 3305 deaths according to the government's report. http://www.nhc.gov.cn/xcs/yqfkdt/202003/ec2689b0e716468fbfff7cf890c74bb7.shtml [http://www.nhc.gov.cn/xcs/yqfkdt/202003/ec2689b0e716468fbfff7cf890c74bb7.shtml] I think the actual figure is more mainly because the undiagnosed people were not listed as COVID-19 patients. But the alleged figure in RFA is too high and makes me think it is just an inaccurate estimation, especially for lacking the reliable source. My impression of this RFA report is that it is propaganda rather than truth. The situation is extremely sad. I understand the impossibility of giving correct statistics when lacking the method to diagnose and also the water-downed figure due to the pressure from the authority to control the social impact.

Take anything RFA (and all RF* propaganda-focused reporting) says with a grain of salt and seek independent sources (instead). From wikipedia:

In 1999, Catharin Dalpino of the Brookings Institution, who served in the Clinton State Department as a deputy assistant secretary deputy for human rights, called Radio Free Asia "a waste of money." "Wherever we feel there is an ideological enemy, we're going to have a Radio Free Something," she says. Dalpino said she has reviewed scripts of Radio Free Asia's broadcasts and views the station's reporting as unbalanced. "They lean very heavily on reports by and about dissidents in exile. It doesn't sound like reporting about what's going on in a country.

Given the current best mortality estimate 0,66% of Covid 19 (from Lancet) that number would presuppose that almost 70% out of Wuhan's 11 millions were infected. So what were they doing in Wuhan all those two months? Partying and letting die all they could?

Hence: either what we think we know about the virus so far is seriously flawed or the number is made up (probably by the Chinese social media and taken up by uncritical Western reporters that do not know simple math). The Chinese officials at Wuhan or Provinical level may have manipulated the data but at this point it does not seem to be done in any extra-ordinary way.

As for the real number of Covid-19 related deaths in Wuhan there are various indirect statistical methods that of course may indicate higher numbers than the official medical records. This is no different from Italy, Spain, France or Britain. (There is often no time to test all that die at home and not in the hospital; in France or Britain they openly acknowledge that).