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.

No complete picture of the virus exists anywhere because of factors beyond government suppression, including testing shortages, varying measurement standards and asymptomatic infections that could account for up to one in four coronavirus cases. Iran has obfuscated its struggles with the pandemic. Italy’s death count of more than 13,000, the most worldwide, leaves out people who died outside hospitals. Testing in the United States lags behind other countries.