China concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease, the US intelligence community concluded in a classified report to the White House, three US officials told Bloomberg on Wednesday.
The officials asked not to be identified because the report is secret, and they declined to detail its contents. But the thrust, they said, is that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete.
Two of the officials said the report concludes that China’s numbers are fake.
The report was received by the White House last week, one of the officials told Bloomberg.
The outbreak began in China’s Hubei province in late 2019, but the country has publicly reported only about 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
That compares to more than 189,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths in the US, which has the largest publicly reported outbreak in the world.
Communications staff at the White House and the Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
“The reality is that we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming,” Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday on CNN. “What appears evident now is that long before the world learned in December that China was dealing with this, and maybe as much as a month earlier than that, that the outbreak was real in China.”
China eventually imposed a strict lockdown beyond those of less autocratic nations, but there has been considerable skepticism toward China’s reported numbers, both outside and within the country. The Chinese government has repeatedly revised its methodology for counting cases, for weeks excluding people without symptoms entirely, and only on Tuesday added more than 1,500 asymptomatic cases to its total.
Republican lawmakers in the US have been particularly harsh about China’s role in the outbreak, including Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) who said after the Bloomberg report was published, “The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false. 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.”
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has publicly urged China and other nations to be transparent about their outbreaks. He has repeatedly accused China of covering up the extent of the problem and being slow to share information, especially in the weeks after the virus first emerged, and blocking offers of help from American experts.
“This data set matters,” he said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday. The development of medical therapies and public-health measures to combat the virus “so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired,” he said.
“I would urge every nation: Do your best to collect the data. Do your best to share that information,” he added. “We’re doing that.”