Story at a glance

  • China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a serological survey in April among a sample of more than 34,000 people in the general population of Wuhan.
  • The CDC found 4.43 percent of those tested in Wuhan had antibodies for the virus, indicating they were infected some time in the past.
  • The ratio suggests the city of more than 11 million people may have had close to 500,000 infections, nearly 10 times the roughly 50,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases the city has reported.

The true number of coronavirus cases in Wuhan, China may have been 10 times higher than the tally publicly reported, according to a study released this week by China’s public health authorities. 

China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a serological survey in April among a sample of more than 34,000 people in the general population of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic. 


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The China CDC found 4.43 percent of those tested in Wuhan had antibodies for the virus, indicating they were infected some time in the past. The ratio suggests the city of more 11 million people may have had close to 500,000 infections, nearly 10 times the roughly 50,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases the city has reported. 

The survey found the infection rate in Wuhan was much higher than in other Chinese cities. In other cities in the Hubei Province, only 0.44 percent of residents tested were found to have coronavirus antibodies. Outside the province, antibodies were only found in two people among the 12,000 surveyed in six other Chinese cities and provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. The China CDC concluded the lower infection rates in other cities were evidence the country’s approach to controlling the virus was successful. 

Wuhan was put under a 76-day lockdown in January. 

It’s not clear whether the health agency planned to publish the data in a journal or if it was being considered for peer-review.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN the underreporting of infections could be partly due to the chaos at the time of the initial outbreak and a failure to count asymptomatic cases. Many countries are thought to have underreported cases due to a lack of resources and misunderstanding of the virus early on in the outbreak. 

But China has faced criticism for its handling of the outbreak, as well as accusations of covering up the true reach of COVID-19 in the country. The Chinese government has also targeted journalists and doctors who have spoken out. 

A freelance journalist who covered the outbreak in Wuhan was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and jailed for four years on Monday. The charge is frequently used by China against dissidents. 

Authorities detained Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer turned journalist, in May after she published a video critical of China's efforts to contain the virus in the central Chinese city on YouTube and Twitter, platforms both banned in China. 


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Published on Dec 30, 2020