Vanished 150,000 elderly residents raise doubts about Wuhan's Covid death toll

150,000 elderly Hubei residents disappeared from pension rolls at height of outbreak in China

Woman sweeps tomb of grandmother and father who died of complications from coronavirus in Wuhan cemetery. (Reuters photo)

Woman sweeps tomb of grandmother and father who died of complications from coronavirus in Wuhan cemetery. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The disappearance of 150,000 pension recipients raises new doubts over the accuracy of the coronavirus death count reported by the Chinese government in Wuhan and Hubei Province in general.

Although the official number of hospitalized cases and deaths from COVID-19 in Hubei stand at 50,340 and 4,512, a study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) found that nearly 500,000 coronavirus cases in Wuhan were never counted. In addition, reports from crematoriums in the provincial capital of Wuhan running at full capacity for many weeks as well as urn sales indicated that as many as 46,800 had died by late March of last year.

On Wednesday, RFA published government figures released by the Hubei Civil Affairs Department showing that 150,000 names had vanished from the list of pension recipients over the first three months of 2020, when the outbreak in Wuhan was at its peak. These subsidies are paid to elderly residents in Hubei over the age of 80 who are in need of financial assistance.

A transparency campaigner who has previously questioned China's official statistics for the death toll in the province, Liu Jun (劉俊), noted the significance of the release of the data: "It seems that the civil affairs department is actually providing evidence in support of the U.K.'s claim." Liu is referring to allegations by the U.K. that China grossly underreported its deaths during the start of the pandemic.

Given China's rapidly aging population, an academic who wished to remain anonymous told RFA that there should be an increase in the number of elderly collecting such subsidies, much less such a dramatic decrease. The scholar believed that the massive burden on the health care system brought on by the outbreak could have indirectly "led to an increase in the number of deaths from other diseases."

The number of deaths caused by the coronavirus in China, particularly in its epicenter in Wuhan, have come into question amid reports of many sick being turned away from hospitals, videos showing persons being welded into their homes, and alleged orders by officials to attribute deaths from the disease to other causes. Official Chinese government data on cremations in Hubei states that 410,000 cremations took place in the province in 2020, an increase of 36,000 people from the 374,000 reported in 2019.

In addition, the 2019 numbers were an increase of 14,000 over the 360,000 cremations recorded in 2018. Following the WHO's recent investigation in Wuhan, lead investigator Peter Ben Embarek told CNN that his team had found signs the outbreak had occurred much earlier and more extensively than is currently being reported by China, potentially as far back as October.

Updated : 2021-03-07 23:37 GMT+08:00