In April, health officials reported 50,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wuhan, where the disease was first discovered. New data released Monday suggests the true total in the early days of the pandemic might have been 10 times higher in the city of 11 million people, Bloomberg reports. The study by Chinese health officials looked at 34,000 people in Wuhan and found that 4.4% had antibodies, which translates into roughly 500,000 people having had the coronavirus. Wuhan was isolated after the outbreak began, and the study found few cases outside the city; just two of 12,000 people checked in six other cities and provinces had the antibodies. The US is among the nations that have been critical of China's transparency on the pandemic, and this revision could renew suspicions.
But it's not unusual for cases to be underreported early in an outbreak, partly because of inadequate testing and the general chaos, per CNN. A global health expert for the Council on Foreign Relations said the lower rates outside Wuhan show that "containment efforts were indeed speedy and effective, especially compared to cities like New York." That's how the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention sees it. "The results of the study show that our country's population has a low infection rate," the agency said. "It indicates that China has succeeded in controlling the epidemic with Wuhan as the main battlefield, and effectively controlled the large-scale spread of the epidemic." (China has imprisoned a citizen journalist over her reporting on the outbreak.)