‘On the light side’: Trump casts doubt on China’s coronavirus figures | World news


Donald Trump has said China’s reported death toll and infections from the coronavirus seem “a little bit on the light side”, as US lawmakers and reportedly members of the intelligence community accused Beijing of intentionally under-reporting the scale of the outbreak.

“The numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side – and I am being nice when I say that – relative to what we witnessed and what was reported,” the US president said at a daily briefing on Wednesday, referring to China’s officially reported figures.

Trump was responding to questions about leaked intelligence, reported by Bloomberg, that concluded Beijing had under-reported the total number of infections and deaths the country experienced.

“As to whether or not their numbers are accurate,” Trump said, “I am not an accountant from China.”

The classified intelligence report and the president’s comments echo questions voiced within and outside China about the officially reported figures. As of Wednesday, China had reported 82,361 infections and 3,316 deaths. In contrast, Italy has reported more than 13,000 deaths and Spain has had more than 9,000.

The US has confirmed more than 200,000 infections and 4,542 deaths.

China has several times changed its criteria for a confirmed case. Up until this week, it did not include patients who tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms. This week, images of thousands of urns being delivered to families in Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, fanned speculation over the official death toll.

During the outbreak, several residents told the Guardian that their family members, who showed symptoms of the virus had died before being tested and were not counted in the death toll.

China

The criticism from Washington is likely to worsen US-China tensions. Trump has insisted on calling the disease the “Chinese virus” despite Beijing’s opposition to the term.

While Trump’s rhetoric has toned down since a call with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, last week, members of the administration have continued to blame China. On Wednesday Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said the White House was “just not [in] the position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China.”.

Deborah Birx, a member of Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, said on Tuesday that the US medical community saw the outbreak as “serious but smaller than anyone expected because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data”.

Republican lawmakers this week called for an investigation into a possible cover-up by China, as well as the disappearance of three citizen journalists, Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua, who went missing after reporting from Wuhan.

Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House foreign affairs committee, said in a statement: “They lied to the world about the human-to-human transmission of the virus, silenced doctors and journalists who tried to report the truth, and are now apparently hiding the accurate number of people impacted by this disease.”

The Nebraska senator Ben Sasse described Beijing’s reporting as “garbage propaganda”, adding in a statement: “Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist party has lied, is lying and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime.”

On Thursday the official People’s Daily published an editorial on its front page accusing the US of blaming outsiders and encouraging xenophobia while “shirking responsibility”.

“In the history of the United States, public health crises have often been accompanied by the stigmatisation of certain ethnic groups and countries,” the article said. “Fighting together is the only option now … The US and China have a lot to learn from each other.”



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