President Donald Trump has insisted deaths from Covid-19 are much higher in China than in the US, despite official statistics painting a far different picture.
China has more than four times the population of the US but has reported far fewer deaths, around 4,600 compared with more than 32,000 in the United States as of late Friday afternoon.
“When I listen to the press every night saying we have the most (deaths) – we don’t have the most in the world,” Mr Trump told Friday’s White House briefing.
“The most in the world has to be China. It’s a massive country. It’s gone through a tremendous problem with this, a tremendous problem. And they must have the most.”
The full reality is difficult to know.
Mr Trump has routinely manipulated numbers and information to make the US response to the coronavirus pandemic look better than it is. China’s secretive leadership obscured the severity of the crisis for crucial weeks, and its numbers remain in question.
It is also certain that deaths from the virus have not been fully reported in either country because the pandemic is still raging in the US and still being accounted for in China.
Even so, in a tweet on Friday, Mr Trump flipped a striking disparity on its head to boast: “China has just announced a doubling in the number of their deaths from the Invisible Enemy. It is far higher than that and far higher than the US, not even close!”
China has just announced a doubling in the number of their deaths from the Invisible Enemy. It is far higher than that and far higher than the U.S., not even close!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Even with China’s upward revision of its deaths on Friday — which was not a doubling, as Mr Trump claimed — the recorded US death toll is some seven times higher than China’s, according to the latest count by Johns Hopkins University.
For China to surpass the US in this lethal count, it would have to be under-reporting deaths by the tens of thousands, and deaths in the U.S. would have to nosedive from the current trend and projections.
A scientific model that US public-health authorities have repeatedly cited, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, now projects more than 60,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US by August. Its worst-case scenario is for more than 140,000 deaths by then.
These projections assume current social distancing is maintained until infections are minimised and the spread is contained.
China on Friday reported 4,632 deaths in total, up from 3,342, a spike due largely to previously uncounted deaths in Wuhan, the city where human infection by the coronavirus is believed to have started.
A group to review the numbers was established in late March. It looked at data from more sources than at the height of the pandemic there as it collected information from fever clinics, temporary hospitals, quarantine sites, prisons, elderly care centres and other places. People who died at home because hospitals had no room for them were counted, too.