As we learned yesterday, there is a classified government report which indicates China has been intentionally lying about its coronavirus numbers. This raises an obvious question: What are the real numbers? Today the NY Times reports that the CIA is doing its best to get them but it’s difficult to do because in China bureaucratic ass-covering is a national sport:

So far, to the frustration of both the White House and the intelligence community, the agencies have been unable to glean more accurate numbers through their collection efforts.

But American intelligence agencies have concluded that the Chinese government itself does not know the extent of the virus and is as blind as the rest of the world. Midlevel bureaucrats in the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated, and elsewhere in China have been lying about infection rates, testing and death counts, fearful that if they report numbers that are too high they will be punished, lose their position or worse, current and former intelligence officials said.

Bureaucratic misreporting is a chronic problem for any government, but it has grown worse in China as the Communist leadership has taken a more authoritarian turn in recent years under Mr. Xi…

The American intelligence about understated numbers predates recent reporting in the Chinese news media that the death count in Wuhan could be 5,000 or more, double the official number. Intelligence officers have not verified the press reports and have left them out of their reports, according to people briefed on their work.

Remember those reports about thousands of urns being delivered to funeral parlors in Wuhan? Officially the death toll in Wuhan is 2,535. So why did one funeral parlor need 5000 urns? Local residents claim hundreds of such urns have been given out every day this week by seven different funeral parlors that serve the city.

As I pointed out earlier today, Italy’s real death toll is certainly higher than the official count because Italy does not include anyone who died at home or without having a coronavirus test. But Radio Free Asia reported a source indicated the same was true in Wuhan. If you didn’t make it to a hospital, you weren’t counted. However, the Chinese government does get reports on the number of cremations taking place, twice a day in fact. So it can calculate the number of excess deaths relative the number from, say, last year:

A source close to the provincial civil affairs bureau said many people had died at home, without being diagnosed with, or treated for, COVID-19.

The source said any talk of the true number of deaths in Wuhan was very sensitive, but that the authorities do likely know the real figure…

The source said Wuhan saw 28,000 cremations in the space of a single month, suggesting that the online estimates over a two-and-a-half month period weren’t excessive.

The online estimates, really educated guesses based on the pace at which the funeral homes can cremate bodies is that the actual death toll in Wuhan exceeds 40,000. This is based on the fact that, working around the clock, the city’s crematoriums should have been able to get through the official number of deaths in a single day.

“It can’t be right … because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?” an Wuhan resident surnamed Zhang told RFA on Friday…

A resident surnamed Gao said the city’s seven crematoriums should have a capacity of around 2,000 bodies a day if they worked around the clock.

“Anyone looking at that figure will realize, anyone with any ability to think,” Gao said. “What are they talking about [2,535] people?”

“Seven crematoriums could get through more than that [in a single day].”

The seven crematoriums have been working around the clock for weeks, even bringing in workers from other parts of the country. So it’s possible the real numbers are not merely double the official figure but much higher than what China is reporting.