Coronavirus Outbreak in China 'Much Worse' than Officially Reported, Claim Wuhan Residents

The coronavirus has already claimed more lives in mainland China than the SARS epidemic, amid reports the country's authorities are not being transparent about the scale of the epidemic and that people are finding it hard to get treatment.

The official death toll in mainland China, according to state-run news agency Xinhua, is 361, with more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the disease. The coronavirus is continuing to spread beyond China and is now present in more than 25 countries.

This figure has overtaken the death toll from SARS, which in 2003 killed 349 people in China and infected 5,327 people.

However, a study published in the medical journal The Lancet estimated that the number of coronavirus infections could be more than four times higher than the number given by Chinese authorities. It said its "baseline scenario" put the figure in the city of Wuhan at 75,815 as of January 25.

People wear face masks as they wait at Hankou Railway Station on January 22, 2020 in Wuhan, China. The city is the center of the outbreak of coronavirus amid concerns there is not enough space in hospitals for those diagnosed with the illness. Getty Images

The Lancet report also projected the "epidemics are already growing exponentially in multiple major cities of China with a lag time behind the Wuhan outbreak of about 1–2 weeks."

There is an apparent discrepancy between the Chinese government's insistence that it can cope with the crisis and other forecasts about its deadliness. This is borne out by anecdotal evidence from residents in Wuhan at the center of the outbreak, who say there is difficulty in getting diagnosis and treatment.

Long Jian, 32, told The New York Times his father had to wait a week and visit half a dozen hospitals before he could even get a coronavirus test.

"The situation that we've seen is much worse than what has been officially reported," he told the paper.

"Those who can get diagnosed and treated are the lucky ones. In our neighborhood, many who weren't able to get diagnosed ended up dying at home."

According to official guidelines, patients in Wuhan are encouraged to go to their local hospitals first for initial assessments and sometimes prescriptions.

Patients then have to give the results to one of around 1,000 neighborhood committees, which coordinate treatment with the hospitals.

The trouble is a ban on transportation makes it difficult to get to the hospitals. When citizens arrive, the hospitals are overrun with patients. Compounding the problem is a shortage of medical kits and supplies, according to The Times.

Amy Hu told the paper her 64-year-old mother could not be admitted to hospital without a test, despite a doctor telling her she had contracted the coronavirus. "I'm very dissatisfied with the government. It's like only when the patients are close to death can they be admitted to a hospital," she said.

Gan Hanjiang, who displayed coronavirus symptoms, said: "Getting treatment is so difficult. We can't get admitted to the hospitals. And there's not enough medicine."

State-run news outlets in China have insisted that the country will be able to cope with the outbreak. New hospitals are being built, with a 1,000-bed facility called Huoshenshan being erected in 10 days. It started to treat patients on Monday, according to Xinhua.

A second facility, Leishenshan Hospital, which will have more than 1,300 beds, will open on Wednesday.

The government mouthpiece pointed to how authorities had taken "unprecedented measures to contain the outbreak," including pooling national medical personnel and supplies to the hardest-hit regions, building new hospitals, extending the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday and imposing travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, the state-run newspaper China Daily reported how the government had confidence it could contain the outbreak, citing a report by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies saying the "entire nation has been mobilized to fight against the epidemic, with 6,097 medical professionals working in Wuhan and other places in Hubei province."