Rand analysis: China understated its coronavirus infections by a factor of 40

by WorldTribune Staff, June 22, 2020

The Rand Corporation in a new report notes there is “strong evidence” that the Chinese communist government’s reporting of coronavirus cases in January of this year was “undercounted by a factor of nearly 40.”

Global exportation of COVID-19 from China in January 2020. / Rand Corporation

Rand said that “based on officially reported cases in China in January 2020, the odds of the novel coronavirus appearing by January 22, 2020, in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, and Taiwan — as it did — would have been minuscule.”

Rand researchers examined commercial air travel to estimate the likely number of infections in China in early 2020. The method combines COVID-19 case data from Johns Hopkins University with detailed air travel data from the International Air Transport Association.

Rand found that, from December 31, 2019, to January 22, 2020, China reported a daily average of 172 cases of COVID-19 among its residents. The number of confirmed cases was equivalent to just one per 8.2 million residents in the country per day.

“Using the detailed flight data over that same period of time, we determined that the five countries most at risk of importing COVID-19 from China were, in descending order of risk, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, and Taiwan,” the Rand report noted.

But, the researchers found that far fewer than 8.2 million passengers flew from China to the five countries over that 23-day period.

Just more than 1 million passengers flew from China to Japan and Thailand each, while slightly more than 750,000 flew to South Korea, 500,000 flew to the United States, and fewer than 400,000 flew to Taiwan.

“Thus, all of these passengers from China totaled fewer than 3.7 million, for an expected COVID-19 exportation rate of less than one case to all five of these countries combined. However, COVID-19 cases were already being reported in all five countries during this time. This trend would be exceedingly unlikely given the low reported case count in China,” the report said.

“If there were an average of 172 total cases per day in China through January 22, 2020, the odds of Japan and Taiwan importing even one case by that date would be 9 percent each. The odds of Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, and Taiwan all reporting cases would be only one in 1.3 million.”

For even odds of COVID-19 cases appearing in all five countries by January 22, 2020, the report said the average odds of a case appearing in each of these countries would have needed to be roughly 87 percent.

“To reach those odds, the actual case rate in China would have needed to be about 37 times higher than what was officially reported on that date — that is, 18,700 total infectious cases, as opposed to just the 503 total cases that China reported having on January 22, 2020,” the report said.

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