By He Jun
China’s National Health Commission (NHC) announced on December 25 that it will no longer publish daily COVID-19 case data, and the data will instead be announced by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for reference and research purposes. On the same day, the CDC stated that according to the relevant provisions of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, it will publish COVID-19 data that include severe, critical, and death cases, as well as information such as vaccination on its website for the public and scientific research institutions.
ANBOUND saw that the first COVID-19 information published by the CDC website on December 25 shows that, on December 24, the figures of the 31 provinces (including autonomous regions and municipalities), together with the report of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) that there were 2,983 new confirmed cases in which 43 were imported cases and 2,940 were local cases, that there were altogether 43,868 confirmed cases in mainland China (including 611 severe cases) and 23 suspected cases.
Looking at the real-life situation and perception of the current outbreaks in various parts of the country, the above-mentioned official data does not appear to reflect reality and has completely lost its reference value.
In this regard, we provide the following points of view:
(1) For the NHC to stop announcing COVID-19 data, is tantamount to shirking its responsibility. The NHC had undertaken this task for three years since the outbreaks, and such a move could possibly undermine the effort to counter the COVID-19 pandemic within the country, as the public might perceive that the related government departments have begun to give up.
(2) The current COVID-19 data in the country is seriously distorted, which is a bigger problem than shirking responsibility. In the past three years of the pandemic, although the public has been unhappy with the strict measures, they still put trust in the credibility of the government’s data. Now, these data are seriously distorted, which will further damage the credibility, as Chinese society no longer has the fundamental standard to judge the COVID-19 situation in the country.
(3) Insufficient information transparency may exacerbate public panic. On the one hand, the official data is distorted, and on the other hand, there are new data of uncertain veracity circulating in society.
Recently there has been a document purported to be the minutes of the NHC meeting on December 21 and has been reported by media like Bloomberg and the Financial Times on December 23. The document alleged that there was a “video conference on strengthening the medical treatment of COVID-19 patients” chaired by NHC deputy director Li Bin and Sun Yang from the CDC where the outbreak situation in China was mentioned. Data from the report showed that on December 20 alone, the estimated number of new infections nationwide was 36.9964 million, and the rate of new infections in a single day was 2.62%, which continued to increase compared with the rate of new infections on December 18 and 19. From December 1 to 20, the estimated cumulative number of infected people across the country was 248 million. The cumulative infection rate of the population reached 17.56%.
We have observed that such information has been widely disseminated in the country, but official agencies have neither confirmed nor denied them. In this regard, Chinese society can only determine the development of the pandemic by guesswork. The NHC’s move to stop announcing the data and being unable to provide accurate information are no trivial matters, but a negative blow to the public’s trust in the government.
He Jun is a researcher at ANBOUND