The news will do little to discourage speculation about a cover-up, with Beijing facing widespread criticism for a perceived lack of transparency, not least by US President Donald Trump. Wuhan’s prevention and control taskforce increased the death toll from 2,579 to 3,869, with the updated figures issued after weeks of scepticism. The numbers coming out of China have contrasted sharply with those of other countries including Mr Trump’s USA, Italy, Spain and the UK, where death tolls have soared past 10,000.
Every loss of life during the epidemic is not just a source of sorrow for their family, but the city as well
The taskforce gave a list of reasons for the revision, including the number of patients unable to reach hospitals, late, mistaken or double reporting, as well as difficulty linking information reported from private hospitals, temporary hospitals and other medical institutions that handled patients.
It said: “Life and the people are paramount.
“Every loss of life during the epidemic is not just a source of sorrow for their family, but the city as well.
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“We would like to send our sincere sympathies to the family members of those who died during the epidemic, as well as our comrades and medical staff who sacrificed their lives.”
Suspicions have been fuelled by images of long queues of family members waiting to collect ashes of victims and reports of thousands of empty urns stacked at a single funeral home.
State broadcaster CGTN quoted an unidentified Wuhan official as saying: “In the early stage, due to limited hospital capacity and the shortage of medical staff, a few medical institutions failed to connect with local disease control and prevention systems in a timely manner, which resulted in delayed reporting of confirmed cases and some failures to count patients accurately.”
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Mr Trump on Wednesday expressed doubts about the country’s previously declared death toll of about 3,000.
He said: “Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China, and that they have a certain number of cases and a certain number of deaths; does anybody really believe that?”
Some experts however believe fatality numbers in many other countries likewise undercount the real death toll due to people who have died from COVID-19 without being tested or presenting at hospitals.
The number of total cases in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was revised up slightly by 325, taking the total to 50,333 or about 60 percent of mainland China’s total.
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Doctors and government officials in Wuhan have been repeatedly questioned about the accuracy of the death toll by journalists on government-arranged trips.
Some of those officials acknowledged that people may have died without being counted in the chaotic early days of the outbreak, before testing was widely available.
Speaking on April 12, Wang Xinghuan, head of one of two field hospitals built for the outbreak, told reporters: “There couldn’t have been many because that was a very short period.”
Worldwide COVID-19 deaths
He stressed that he was not speaking for the government.
Before the revised Wuhan numbers were released, China said it had recorded 26 new cases of the coronavirus in the mainland on Thursday, down from 46 cases a day earlier, according to the National Health Commission.
The announcement brought the total number of cases in mainland China to 82,367.
Of the new cases, 15 were imported infections, the lowest since March 17.
The remaining 11 confirmed cases were locally transmitted infections, down from 12 a day earlier.
The number of new asymptomatic cases increased to 66 from 64 a day earlier.
China does not include patients with no clinical symptoms such as a cough or a fever in its tally of confirmed cases. No new deaths were reported.
Worldwide, more than 2.14 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 143,744 have died.
(Additional reporting by Rachel Russell)