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China raised Wuhan’s coronavirus death toll by nearly 50 percent Friday following weeks of allegations that officials were underreporting the numbers to make the situation there look better than it actually was.
The city where the coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated is now reporting 3,869 deaths after adding 1,290 to its previously-announced figure. Numbers of total cases in the city of 11 million were also raised by 325 to 50,333, accounting for about two-thirds of China’s total 82,367 announced cases.
Chinese state media claimed Friday that the reason for the sudden leap was that medical facilities were overwhelmed during the peak of the outbreak and because of that, “belated, missed and mistaken reporting occurred.”
“Due to the insufficiency in admission and treatment capability, a few medical institutions failed to connect with the disease prevention and control system in time, while hospitals were overloaded and medics were overwhelmed with patients,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported, attributing the comments to an unidentified official with Wuhan’s epidemic and prevention and control headquarters.
The new figures were compiled through a comparison of data from Wuhan’s epidemic prevention and control big data system, the city funeral service system, the municipal hospital authority’s information system, and the nucleic acid test system to “remove double-counted cases and fill in missed cases,” the mystery official added.
The new numbers Friday were not a surprise to critics though.
"Well, well, well: After repeatedly defending the accuracy of their data, Chinese officials revise the coronavirus death toll in Wuhan," tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
David Hui, the head of the Stanley Ho Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the New York Times Friday that China's new Wuhan numbers are "quite strange."
“I really don’t understand how they were able to get information on so many additional people," he added.
The newspaper reports that University of Hong Kong researchers recently estimated that China likely had 232,000 confirmed cases by late February, four times what was being reported at the time and about three times what is being reported as of today.
“This is quite strange,” said David Hui, the director of the Stanley Ho Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, referring to the revised figures. “I really don’t understand how they were able to get information on so many additional people.”
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong recently estimated there were probably around 232,000 confirmed cases in China by late February, more than four times the number of reported cases at the time.
Wuhan residents have been saying for weeks that the numbers coming out of the city didn’t add up.
In late March, they told Radio Free Asia that Beijing's claims that there were only 2,500 deaths in Wuhan is far from reality.
For more than a week, seven large funeral homes that serve Wuhan reportedly had been handing out the cremated remains of about 500 people to their families every day.
"It can't be right ... because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died," said Zhang, a Wuhan resident who only gave Radio Free Asia his last name. "They started distributing ashes and starting interment ceremonies on Monday."
There have also been claims of city officials paying off families in exchange for their silence.
"There have been a lot of funerals in the past few days, and the authorities are handing out 3,000 yuan in hush money to families who get their loved ones remains laid to rest ahead of Qing Ming," Wuhan resident Chen Yaohui had said. "It's to stop them keeing (a traditional expression of grief); nobody's allowed to keen after [the festival] Qing Ming has passed."
In early April, three U.S. intelligence officials also called China’s math into question.
In a classified report sent to the White House, the officials had said that China's public record of COVID-19 infections was deliberately deceptive and incomplete.
But China has pushed back at the claims.
"We didn't conceal death figures, and the numbers are accurate," Lu Shaye, Chinese ambassador to France, said in response.
Fox News’ Barnini Chakraborty and the Associated Press contributed to this report.