Questions raised over official China coronavirus death figures

Officially 3,342 people died in China amid the coronavirus outbreak, but as the death tolls in country after country exceeds that of the Covid-19 epicentre, those government figures have come under increasing scrutiny and don’t appear to stack up.

It’s true that tens of thousands of medics and vast resources were deployed to Wuhan in the days and weeks following its lockdown; it was an unprecedented response and one no other country in the world has had the capacity to repeat.

The Chinese government claim it was that herculean effort which helped prevent fatalities on the scale now seen elsewhere.

But the virus had well and truly taken hold in the city by the time the lockdown was enforced and we’ve repeatedly been told by people in Wuhan, including doctors and nurses, that hundreds - if not thousands - died at home, untested and unaccounted for.

Liu Pei’en's father died from coronavirus. Credit: ITV News

Many more died in hospital but also went unrecorded because doctors and nurses were too overwhelmed to treat them, let alone test them.

At that time test kits were also in short supply.

ITV News first spoke to Liu Pei’en at the beginning of February.

He’d just lost his father to the virus and even back then told us there was no way the number of deaths being reported was correct.

He’d seen the chaos in the hospital in which his father died, he had two friends in their forties who died so he knew it wasn’t just affecting the elderly.

Pei’en is one of a small group of grieving relatives who have dared to speak out about the numbers.

He’s been warned by the authorities several times for maintaining communication with ITV News and he took a risk to meet us this week in Wuhan.

At the beginning of April he was one of hundreds who queued up to claim the ashes of their loved ones.

He had been with his father when he died, but many people hadn’t been able to comfort their relatives at the end.

They had seen them taken into hospital or taken away in a body bag and then weeks or months later here they were queuing to be handed an urn.

A Wuhan cemetry. Credit: ITV News

The doubts Pei’en had about the numbers were confirmed again going through that funeral process, in speaking to other grieving families and talking to those who had cremated his father and thousands of others.

He told ITV News the real number of deaths in Wuhan must be at least 10 times higher than reported.

The official figure is around 2,500 but from speaking to those at the funeral parlour and others, he estimates it must be more like 20,000 or 25,000.

He said it is impossible for it to be only around 2,000.

His father was the only thing keeping him in Wuhan, so Pei’en is thinking to leave, it might be safer for him, to.

Following the lifting of the lockdown Pei’en fears the authorities will force people to forget about the missed warnings, about the discrepancies in deaths and their questions about how this happened in the first place.

Pei’en fears those who initially sought to demand answers will melt away; in China it is easier and less dangerous to accept and forget.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know