As many as half a million residents of the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated may have been infected with the virus, about 10 times more than the initially recorded number of confirmed cases.
According to a study released late Monday by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention that surveyed more than 34,000 people in April, roughly 4.4 percent of those tested were found to be carrying the antibodies that fight off the virus that causes COVID-19.
The presence of antibodies means the people had the virus at some point in the past and, given the ratio, nearly 500,000 residents of Wuhan, which has a total population of 11 million, could have been infected.
This is nearly 10 times more than the 50,000 confirmed cases reported by Chinese health authorities in mid-April.
As of Sunday, Wuhan had reported a total of 50,354 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.
This week’s study indicated that the infection rate in Wuhan was significantly higher than in other Chinese cities. For example, the survey found that only 0.44 percent of Hubei residents surveyed were found to be carrying the antibodies.
According to CNN, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the initial underreporting in Wuhan could be partially attributed to the chaos of the pandemic’s early months, as well as the failure to count asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
Huang pointed out that underreporting is not a problem exclusive to Wuhan, as testing capabilities were limited and hospitals overwhelmed with a sudden surge in patients as little was known about the virus in the early months.
However, the Chinese government has also faced scrutiny and criticism over a suspected lack of transparency on the severity of the virus.
On Monday, a citizen journalist who reported from Wuhan at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in China was sentenced to four years in prison after being found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to multiple reports.
The charge is regularly used by the Chinese government against human rights activists and other dissidents.
Zhang Zhan, 37, traveled to Wuhan in February and filmed hospitals, neighborhoods and more as the city locked down during its initial outbreak of COVID-19. Her reporting accused the government of failing to inform citizens about the pandemic’s reality.
Prosecutors accused Zhang of “publishing large amounts of fake information” and receiving interviews from international media outlets to “maliciously stir up the Wuhan Covid-19 epidemic situation,” CNN reported.