China to Reveal a Key Virus Data Point: People With No Symptoms

China’s government indicated it will start releasing data on how many people are infected with coronavirus but don’t have symptoms, seemingly responding to a growing chorus of domestic and international criticism of China’s data on the outbreak.

A government worker checks the travelers' body temperature at a railway station in Fuyang, China on Jan. 29. Photographer: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

A government worker checks the travelers' body temperature at a railway station in Fuyang, China on Jan. 29. Photographer: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Local governments should emphasize their ongoing efforts to monitor, track, isolate and treat cases of so-called “asymptomatic infection,” a meeting on Covid-19 led by Premier Li Keqiang said Monday. Doing so will reduce loopholes in epidemic control work, according to the statement which was released on the website of the State Council, the top administrative body in China.

“Once asymptomatic cases are discovered, it’s required to immediately implement strictly centralized isolation and medical management, release information openly and transparently, resolutely prevent late reporting and omissions, identify the source as soon as possible, and quarantine close contacts for medical observation,” according to the statement.

Chinese authorities are expected to start releasing data on asymptomatic infection in “the near future,” domestic media Yicai reported in a story Monday. Zhejiang, in the country’s southeast and which has the fourth highest number of confirmed infections of any province, earlier said that all asymptomatic cases would be subject to the same control measure as confirmed cases, according to a Xinhua report.

The exclusion from official data of people infected but without symptoms has come up repeatedly since the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan. Authorities there and elsewhere are still finding such cases, even as the growth in confirmed new cases has slowed rapidly.

That’s raised the question of whether the outbreak is truly under control. South Korea, Japan and Singapore are among countries which count all positive tests in their official tallies of cases, regardless of whether the people have symptoms such as a fever or a cough.

In the past few days, both Gansu and Guangdong provinces have reported new symptom-free cases from people who left the city of Xianning in Hubei province after a quarantine was lifted. The news sparked concerns about the unknown scale of asymptomatic cases across the country.

Monday’s meeting said screening for asymptomatic infections should be intensified in a targeted manner, and the scope of testing should be further extended to include Covid-19 cases, close contacts of any asymptomatic infections, specific populations and specific areas with special requirements.

As China pushes to restart the economy, some worry that local governments might be concealing new cases so companies and towns can reopen. Monday’s meeting warned all local governments to release information in an open and transparent manner.

Coronavirus Spread in China Slows Sharply But Doubt Remains

“It is not allowed to conceal or omit information in pursuit of zero case reports,” the meeting report said. “This will not only help guide the public to protect themselves, but also promote the active and orderly resumption of work and production.”

China should promptly collect samples from key epidemic areas, carry out investigations and epidemiological analysis of asymptomatic infections, and study and improve prevention and control measures, according to the meeting report.


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