News Coronavirus Coronavirus death toll in the US climbs past China – but Beijing’s figures are questionable

Coronavirus death toll in the US climbs past China – but Beijing’s figures are questionable

Governor Andrew Cuomo Speaks at a press conference in New York where a field hospital was set up to treat coronavirus patients. Photo: Getty
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The US death toll from the coronavirus has climbed past 3440. To put that in context, it’s 500 more than the number of Americans who died in the 9/11 terror attacks which until this point have been considered one of the country’s deadliest events.

It’s also more than China’s official count of its COVID-19 deaths – despite a population 1.1 billion higher than the US, and the virus first taking off in Wuhan.

By Wednesday morning, American authorities were dealing with 181,099 COVID-19 cases, making it the worst place in the world for the virus (Italy had 105,792 and Spain had 94,417). New Yorkers are suffering most, with 1550 in that state alone.

But it’s looking increasingly likely that Beijing has not been accurately reporting its figures – meaning the true extent of the crisis in the original epicentre is not known.

China agrees to be more transparent

Worldwide, more than 800,000 people were infected and more than 40,000 people had died of the virus by Wednesday morning, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Figures on deaths and infections around the world are supplied by government health authorities and compiled by Johns Hopkins.

But the data is regarded with skepticism by public health experts because of different counting practices a lack of testing in some places, and the numerous mild cases that have been missed.

There’s also growing concern that some countries – including China, North Korea and Indonesia – are downplaying the severity of the crisis.

China has been claiming it has curbed domestic cases, reporting on Tuesday just one new death from the coronavirus and 48 new cases. It said all new infections had come from overseas.

But officials there have admitted that it has not been including in its figures people who have tested positive but do not show symptoms of the virus.

That looks set to change, with Beijing indicating it may have finally bowed to global pressure to start reporting asymptomatic patients.

Authorities in New York are preparing more hospital beds as the infection rate soars. Photo: Getty

On Tuesday, China announced more than 1,500 coronavirus cases that had not previously been made public, The New York Times reported.

But that could be just a fraction of the real number of cases. Last week, Hong-Kong based newspaper The South China Morning Post cited classified government information that showed asymptomatic cases could be as high as 43,000.

Chang Jile, director of the commission’s Disease Prevention and Control Bureau said China would step up screening and investigation of asymptomatic cases (which can still be infectious).

“With effect from April 1, we will include reports of asymptomatic cases, any status change and how they are being handled, as part of our daily outbreak updates to address public concern,” Mr Chang said, according to a translation published by the Post.
“We will strengthen our work in monitoring, surveillance, quarantine and the treatment of asymptomatic carriers, and do sampling in key areas to investigate and analyse these carriers.”

Indonesia has also changed its tune after initially claiming the virus had not hit any of its islands.

On Tuesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared a public health emergency.

Medical experts have said Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country, must impose tighter restrictions on movements. Known cases of the disease have gone from none in early March to 1528 by Wednesday morning, with 136 deaths.

Indonesia suspended all foreign arrivals on Tuesday after a study showed more than 140,000 people in the country could die of the virus without tougher action.

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for the Western Pacific has cautioned that the risk in Asia and the Pacific “will not go away as long as the pandemic continues”.

“This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard,” Kasai said. “We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation.”

-with AAP