Paragraphs in bold letters is emphasis on my part. Otherwise, this excellent news report not only points out that the Chinese Communist Party manipulated their coronavirus data for political purposes, but how they do it and why.
Leaked Chinese Virus Database Covers 230 Cities, 640,000 Updates
New information may offer insight into the honesty of China’s coronavirus numbers.
By Isaac Stone Fish, Maria Krol Sinclair | May 12, 2020 – Foreign Policy
Beijing claims that since the coronavirus pandemic began at the end of last year, there have been only 82,919 confirmed cases and 4,633 deaths in mainland China. Those numbers could be roughly accurate, and in that case a detailed account would be an important tool in judging the spread of the virus. But it’s also possible that the numbers presented to the rest of the world are vastly understated compared to Beijing’s private figures. The opaqueness and mistrust of outsiders in the Chinese Communist Party’s system makes it hard to judge—but learning more about the coronavirus data used directly by Chinese officials is invaluable for governments elsewhere. A dataset of coronavirus cases and deaths from the military’s National University of Defense Technology, leaked to Foreign Policy, offers insight into how Beijing has gathered coronavirus data on its population. The source of the leak, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of sharing Chinese military data, said that the data came from the university. The school publishes a data tracker for the coronavirus: The online version matches with the leaked information, except it is far less detailed—it shows just the map of cases, not the distinct data.
The dataset, though it contains inconsistencies—and though it may not be comprehensive enough to contradict Beijing’s official numbers—is the most extensive dataset proved to exist about coronavirus cases in China. But more importantly, it can serve as a valuable trove of information for epidemiologists and public health experts around the globe—a dataset that Beijing has almost certainly not shared with U.S. officials or doctors. (The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
While not fully comprehensive, the data is incredibly rich: There are more than 640,000 updates of information, covering at least 230 cities—in other words, 640,000 rows purporting to show the number of cases in a specific location at the time the data was gathered.
For locations in and around the center of the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province, the data also includes deaths and those who “recovered.” It’s unclear how the dataset’s authors define “confirmed” and “recovered”: Like other countries, China has updated its counting methods, as demonstrated in mid-February when Hubei’s reported cases spiked because officials announced they were including patients diagnosed with CT scans. Unlike in other countries, China’s outbreak peaked before rigorous testing methods were widely available, and the Communist Party often manipulates data for political purposes.
The data reviewed by Foreign Policy includes hospital locations, but it also includes place names corresponding to apartment compounds, hotels, supermarkets, railway stations, restaurants, and schools across the breadth of the country. The dataset reports one case of coronavirus in a KFC in the eastern city of Zhenjiang on March 14, for example, while a church in the northeastern provincial capital of Harbin saw two cases on March 17. (The data does not include the names of the individuals who contracted or died from the disease, and the reports of the cases in the dataset could not be independently verified.)
It’s unclear as yet how the university gathered the data. The online version says that they aggregated the data from China’s health ministry, the National Health Commission, media reports, and other public sources. According to its website, the university, based in the central Chinese city of Changsha, is “under the direct leadership of the Central Military Commission,” the body that oversees China’s military. The military has played a large role in mobilizing against the virus: It has helped enforce quarantines, transport supplies, and treat patients. A propaganda message on a prominent military website in China reads, “In the fight against the epidemic, the people’s army is on the move!”