Ever since the outbreak of coronavirus was officially reported by China on Dec. 31, 2019, the real picture remained evasive for the world. It took another seven days for the first death to be reported on Jan. 7, 2020, while the number abruptly started multiplying in the last four days, following the World Health Organization's refusal to name it a global outbreak.
According to GISAID network, so far 80 cases of victims have been reported while 53 have been confirmed dead. Otherwise, the total number of reported cases so far is officially put at 2,784, including the overseas cases. Currently, more than 20 cities in China are under seize, while the virus is reportedly spreading at an alarming rate that was not seen in the past when similar SARS-related coronavirus was found in China.
Actual number at 100,000?
Considering the current scenario, experts stated that it can be assumed that there were 100,000 people affected by the virus in China, while the official figure is still below 3,000, that too mostly in the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. Even in the UK, officials have stated that they are receiving frantic calls from people seeking a safe house, away from the virus-affected region and NHS stated that they are ready to deal with any case involving the British citizens.
China's past record during health crises
China's past record during the previous major virus outbreaks was equally apprehensive. In 2003, the country was accused of trying to cover up the major outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that shook the world. It was a previously known virus, believed to have emerged from the wet markets of Guangdong province before spreading to other cities. It killed 774 people and the epidemic effectively reached 17 countries.
It should be mentioned that an adviser to China's cabinet, Liu Heng said that it took the country five months to announce the SARS outbreak to the public. But recently he mentioned that the current situation is not the same that he had witnessed in 2003 as China is currently doing "Much better now... We are paying greater attention to preventing the epidemic."
The experts claimed that the current coronavirus or Wuhan Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is not as deadly as SARS but Peter Kellam, a virologist at Imperial College in London, has stated that the most important factor in such a situation is sharing the details as much as possible with the rest of the world. But this time along with international institutions, the Asian country appears to have learned from the past disastrous attempt to cover up SARS.
It should be noted that scientists across the world have been given access to data to the infection rates and the virus's genome under Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID), which allows them to develop diagnostic tests and conduct research on potential drugs as quickly as possible. Even a team from the World Health Organisation (WHO) visited Wuhan last week and "commended" the Chinese authorities for their swift response to handle the crisis.
The recent controversy
However, several reports have cropped in international media suggesting that China's Wuhan city authorities have blanked out local media on reporting the real numbers while the hospitals were banned from releasing any news briefs on their own. The only source of news is from the government, with no independent verifiable authority on the standby.
In 2008 too, the Chinese government allowed a cover-up that led to 300,000 babies being poisoned by contaminated milk formula in order to avoid embarrassment on the sidelines of the Beijing Olympics. But Prof. Neil told The Guardian, "There are very large numbers of Chinese tourists across Europe right now. Unless the Chinese manage to control this, and I'm sceptical about whether that is possible, we will get cases here."
After the emergence of the controversial reports, Twitter users have raised their voice against China. One of the users tweeted: "We don't know the true number because China is autocratic state and has been lying about the virus."