China acknowledged Friday that the coronavirus death toll for epicenter of Wuhan was 50% higher than previously reported — a major revision that highlights just how seriously current numbers on infections and deaths around the globe may be understating the true toll of the pandemic.
Incomplete or unreliable figures about the pandemic take on an oversized influence during times of crisis, as medical staff struggle to figure out how to cope with surges of sick people and governments have to make crucial decisions about when and how they can begin easing lockdown restrictions to resuscitate their ailing economies.
As virus deaths mounted — with the United States reporting the nation’s highest daily death toll yet at nearly 4,600 — the economic devastation from the lockdowns designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus is becoming even more shocking.
Unemployment in the United States rose by 5.2 million, bringing the four-week total to a staggering 22 million. China’s economy shrank 6.8% in the quarter ending in March from the same period a year ago, its worst contraction since before market-style economic reforms began in 1979. And in Europe, car sales tanked 55% last month amid the lockdowns, a drop twice as step as even took place during the 2008-09 global financial crisis.
Authorities and experts say both infections and virus deaths have been under-reported almost everywhere. Thousands of people have died with COVID-19 symptoms — many in nursing homes, which have been ravaged by a disease that hits the elderly the hardest — without ever being tested. Four months into the outbreak, nations are still struggling to lift their testing capacities — and many are still far from their announced goals.
Spain on Friday ordered the country’s 17 autonomous regions to unify the criteria on counting the dead from the pandemic. Spain has counted more than 19,000 virus deaths out of more than 182,000 infections, but the system leaves out the patients who died with symptoms but were not tested.
“We are probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg, only a part of the cases that for sure are happening in Spain,” Barcelona University epidemiologist Antoni Trilla, who heads the Spanish government’s expert panel on the pandemic, told Cadena SER radio.
Britain’s official death toll, which is approaching 14,000, has come under increasing scrutiny because it does not include any deaths at home or in nursing homes.
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The country’s statistics agency has indicated the actual number of deaths could be around 15% higher, though others think it will end up being a lot more than that amid growing reports of a sharp increase in coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes.
Belgium’s death toll jumped when it began including suspected COVID-19 victims in nursing homes. But the government insists its count injects much-needed transparency into the murky numbers.
“Accounting for suspicious cases is necessary. Especially in difficult situations where it is complicated to confirm cases,” said Emmanuel Andre, a spokesman for Belgium’s crisis center.