Beijing argues that since the end of last year began pandemic coronavirus infection in mainland China had reported a total of 82 thousand 919 cases and 4 thousand 633 deaths. These data can be quite accurate, and in this case a detailed report will be an important tool in studying how it spreads the virus.
However, it is also possible that the figures that China provided to other countries, are greatly underestimated compared to the real numbers, which Beijing prefers to keep secret. Tightness and distrust towards strangers, characteristics of the system of the Communist party of China, prevented an objective evaluation. However, if we have access to more information about the coronavirus available to Chinese officials, this will be an invaluable aid for many governments.
Database of cases of infection and death from coronavirus infection, composed of the Defense scientific and technical University of the armed forces of China and fell into the hands of reporters of the edition of Foreign Policy, sheds light on how Beijing has collected data on spread of coronavirus infection among the Chinese. The source of this leak, who asked to keep his name secret, because he has no right to disclose relevant information, said that the data were collected by the University. In addition, the University created a special service for tracking the spread of coronavirus: data in the online version are consistent with the information obtained through the channels of leakage, however they are much less detailed, since the online version is only the map-morbidity no details.
This dataset, although it contains some inconsistencies, and while he may not be as comprehensive to rebut the official figures published by the Beijing — represents the most extensive database on the spread of coronavirus infection in China. More importantly, this dataset could serve as a valuable source of information for epidemiologists and experts in public health worldwide — and almost certainly Beijing is not shared these data with us officials and doctors. (World health organization and the American centers for control and prevention of diseases has not responded to our requests for comment.)
Although these data are imperfect, can be gleaned from them a lot of valuable information. They reflected more than 640 thousand cases of updates of information, covering 230 cities, in other words, more than 640 thousand lines, which indicated the number of cases in a particular city for the time period when these data were collected. Each update contained information on the extent, duration and the number of “confirmed” cases of infection in a particular city, and these data cover the period from early February to late April of this year.
Data related to places located in the epicentre of the outbreak, in Wuhan city, Hubei province, or around it, also include the number of deaths and the number of those who “cured.” It remains unclear what the compilers of this database meant by “confirmed” cases and cases “of recovery.” As in many other countries, in China, the experts corrected methods of calculation cases that became apparent in mid-February, when the Hubei province reported a sharp surge in the incidence due to the fact that patients began to diagnose covid-19 based on the results of computed tomography. Unlike other countries, the epidemic in China began before the effective testing methods are available, and the Communist party often manipulates data in order to achieve their political goals.
Data that fell into the hands of reporters and Foreign Policy, include information about the location of hospitals, as well as the name of various places, coinciding with the names of residential complexes, hotels, supermarkets, railway stations, restaurants and schools throughout the country. For example, in this database reported one case of infection coronavirus infection in the KFC restaurant in Zhenjiang in Eastern China, which was recorded on March 14, and two cases of infection in the churches of Harbin in the North-East of the country, recorded 17 Mar. (This database has no names of those who were infected or died from the coronavirus, and reported cases of infection or deaths contained in this database, it is impossible to independently verify.)
While it remains unclear exactly how the University collected the data. In the online version said they received information from the Ministry of health of China, from the Commission on public health, from press reports and other public sources. According to information on the official website of the University located in the city of Changsha in Central China, it is “directly subordinate to the Central military Council of China” — the body that oversees the country’s armed forces. The armed forces have played an important role in combating the spread of the virus: they helped to ensure the observance of quarantine measures, to supply all necessary and treat patients. Propaganda slogan, published on the official website of the armed forces of China, says: “In the fight against the epidemic, the people’s army mobilized!”
The man who, apparently, was responsible for the creation of this database is Haisu Zhang (Zhang Haisu), Director of faculty information and communication at the University. In their may press release, the University puts Zhang in the merit of what he has created “the database, contributed to the fight against the virus and return to work, and appreciates his dedication. In the note on the website tracking the spread of coronavirus States: “currently, our country takes decisive measures, and the epidemiological situation is tightly controlled”. The site also published the email address of Zhang Haisu. The response to our request, sent to the address we have received. The University representatives did not respond to our request comment.
The publication Foreign Policy and organization of 100Reporters, who also published this material, I decided to make this database available to the public — for security reasons — however we are considering the possibility to transmit the data to researchers studying the distribution features of coronavirus.
Of popular service for tracking the spread of coronavirus Johns Hopkins University borrows data for China on DXY, Chinese medical platform, which collects information on morbidity in the country. But raptr only provides information at the provincial level. More detailed information could greatly help scientists and ordinary citizens who would like to learn more about how this disease spreads in other countries. The trends reflected in these data might contribute to our knowledge about this disease and about how Beijing is manipulating the numbers. In mid-April, experts in the field of medical research expressed skepticism after the government of Wuhan revised data on the number of deaths, increasing their number from 2579 to 3869, i.e. almost 50%.
Why Beijing restricts access to data on the spread of the coronavirus? Perhaps because of hostile attitudes or distrust of the United States, because now the tension between them reached a very high level. It’s also possible, Beijing is afraid that the experts from other countries learn about his large-scale attempts to hide the truth because it will be a refutation of the idea that such authoritarian regimes as China, are better equipped to protect their populations from the pandemic. Even the public version of the database of the Defense science and technology University of the PLA from time to time blocks access from us IP addresses. To access the University website, where the published map, one of the authors of this article was forced to use virtual private network, and pretend like he is in the territory of Uruguay.
Isaac stone-fish — a journalist and senior fellow, Center for us-China relations in the organization of the Asia Society. Previously, he was editor of Foreign Policy magazine.
Maria Krol Sinclair — independent scholar from Washington, specializing in policy issues of space and technology.