The latest updates as of Thursday morning show that the coronavirus outbreak has killed 560 people and infected more than 28,000 across the world. While the deaths are almost entirely in China, the virus has spread to more than 25 countries. While the official death toll is going up each day, a report in Taiwan News whipped up added scare after it was revealed that Chinese tech firm Tencent briefly put the death toll at nearly 25,000.
Taiwan News reported on Thursday that Tencent gave the figures on its webpage titled "Epidemic Situation Tracker' on Saturday. The tracker showed that the deaths from the novel coronavirus in China stood at 24,589. It also said the confirmed cases were 154,023, which was 10 times the official figures on that day. The report also said the suspected cases were 79,808, while the number of those who were cured of the virus was a mere 269. As per official figures, more than 300 people had been cured.
However, minutes after publishing the numbers, Tencent updated the page with the official numbers released by the Chinese government. Taiwan News notes that internet users said China's largest tech company had posted extremely high numbers at least three times earlier as well. There have been questions right from the early stages of the virus outbreak if China was revealing accurate information on the extent of the epidemic.
What could be happening?
Taiwan News says that it appears like Tencent keeps two sets of data regarding the virus outbreak. Each time the data set with the high numbers is updated, it shows an incremental increase in the numbers compared with the previous numbers. This suggests that there is indeed an internal data set that reflects the true extent of the virus outbreak and an official version for public consumption. The possibility of someone trying to flash the real extent of the impact of the outbreak cannot be ruled out, the report adds.
Experts question official numbers
Medical experts from around the world had doubted if the official numbers relating to the Wuhan virus infection and deaths have been accurate and updated. The sceptics also point out that China has always tried to keep under wraps information that may cast a shadow over the Communist Party government's efficiency.
One of the most prominent experts who raised the doubt in recent days was David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory medicine expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The professor said the official numbers relating to Wuhan virus could be "just the tip of the iceberg", the South China Morning Post reported. He underlined that the official data only reflects the acute cases attended to in hospitals.
Another expert, Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, said the shortage of test kits could also play a part in the underreporting of the number of cases. "There have also been many patients who died of undifferentiated respiratory and undiagnosed pneumonia symptoms in Wuhan since December – before the virus testing kits were made available," the Hong Kong-based infectious disease specialist told SCMP. He also added that doctors were facing a shortage of testing kits and that this reduces the state's ability to determine the real number of cases.