Classified U.S. intel report: China is hiding the true scope of its coronavirus cases and deaths

This is like finding out that U.S. intelligence has formally concluded that China is maintaining concentration camps for Uighurs.

We all already know. But it’s gratifying to see them call a lie a lie.

Next they’re going to tell us that Russia and Iran are hiding the scope of the outbreak within their own borders.

It seemed beyond belief that a country with 80,000+ official cases of a highly infectious novel virus somehow brought the number down to zero new cases in the span of about 10 weeks. Even the most draconian lockdown can achieve only so much. Confirmed: It’s beyond belief.

China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease, the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a classified report to the White House, according to three U.S. officials.

The officials asked not to be identified because the report is secret and declined to detail its contents. But the thrust, they said, is that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete. Two of the officials said the report concludes that China’s numbers are fake

While China eventually imposed a strict lockdown beyond those of less autocratic nations, there has been considerable skepticism of China’s reported numbers, both outside and within the country. The Chinese government has repeatedly revised its methodology for counting cases, for weeks excluding people without symptoms entirely, and only on Tuesday added more than 1,500 asymptomatic cases to its total.

Circumstantial evidence that the outbreak in China was more severe than reported has been mounting for weeks. Read this post from last weekend, which focused on the number of urns reportedly being sent to Wuhan, for some choicer morsels. Jim Geraghty has been tracking signs that authorities there remain worried about the scope of the problem and points to this latest news from Shanghai:

Shanghai’s skyscrapers – Shanghai Tower, Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower, and Jinmao Tower – will temporarily close again starting Monday after reopening for 19 days.

Earlier, the Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai History Museum were reopened on March 12.

In addition, Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park, Madame Tussauds Shanghai, and other indoor sightseeing and entertainment attractions have also been suspended.

The move is considered as part of the city’s efforts to prevent and control the coronavirus epidemic and ensure visitor’s safety and health, according to the tourist sites’ announcement on Sunday afternoon.

Shanghai isn’t near Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. It’s on the coast, more than 400 miles away. The government is clearly managing multiple hot spots inside its borders.

What are the implications of China lying? Most basically, much of the current data about coronavirus is largely worthless because most of it comes from China’s cooked books. That’s changing by the hour as American and European doctors get to observe firsthand how the disease afflicts its victims; we’ll have a more reliable data set soon for calculating the fatality rate, the infection rate, and so on. But certain assumptions that originated from the Chinese data, like the idea that severe cases are concentrated among the elderly, may need to be rethought. It does appear that the elderly are much more likely to succumb, per Italy’s experience, but U.S. hospitals have already seen many cases of people in younger demographics needing ventilators to survive.

Another implication: We should never again trust, or fund, the World Health Organization once this crisis has passed. They’ve been China’s loyal mouthpiece throughout the episode, treating the Chinese numbers as reliable. They’re either willing propagandists or dupes. Deborah Birx made the point noted in Ed’s post earlier that if China had been more honest about the scope of its own outbreak early, governments in other countries may have scrambled to act sooner than they did. Chinese denial seeded the contagion globally by covering up the fact of human-to-human transmission while the plague was spreading in Wuhan and then Chinese denial seeded an underreaction internationally by health authorities who were led to believe the epidemic wasn’t as severe as it was. (That’s a far better excuse for the administration’s slow-footed reaction to the crisis than impeachment is.) The WHO aided and abetted them. We should be done with them as soon as it’s responsible to be done with them.

Being done with China is harder, certainly impossible in the near term. But there’ll be some, shall we say, “social distancing” between western nations like the U.S. and Beijing going forward. The smart play right now for the Chinese government would be to come clean and attempt to make amends with more honest data; the new reporting on asymptomatic cases may be a glimmer of that. But their massive propaganda campaign to shift blame to the U.S. is still in motion. They haven’t even closed down the “wet markets” from which the virus likely originated.

They smashed the global economy and covered it up. The relationship between the east’s great power and the west’s will never recover.

Bloomberg claims that the White House has had this classified report about China cooking the books since last week, but Trump hasn’t mentioned it. Birx alluded to it, as noted above, but there’s certainly been no aggressive messaging effort by the U.S. to accuse China of deceiving us. If anything, Trump has grown more conciliatory towards China after a phone call with Xi Jinping. He’s stopped using terms like “Chinese virus” and he’s tweeted encouragingly about relations:

Did he agree to keep the classified report under wraps in return for some concession, e.g., greater candor in reporting their data going forward? Maybe he’s not in a position to demand concessions: The U.S. still relies heavily on Chinese manufacturers for medical supplies, starting with drugs and protective equipment for doctors. Now isn’t the moment for antagonism. Which may explain why this is being leaked — some U.S. officials might be angry that China’s getting a pass on its deception for reasons of supply-chain necessity and decided to leak the report to embarrass them. Or, alternately, they’re aggrieved that Trump isn’t doing more to call out Beijing publicly for whatever odd reason and figured they’d do it for him by sharing the report with the media. He’ll be asked about this at his next coronavirus briefing. What will he say?

Exit quotation from Ben Sasse, commenting on today’s news: “The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false. Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist Party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime. Beijing’s garbage propaganda shouldn’t be taken seriously by the World Health Organization, by independent journalists, or by the American epidemiologists who are going to beat this terrible virus.”