The UK government has removed China from graphs and charts used to compare British coronavirus deaths to the fatalities in other countries, reported the Daily Mail.
The move by Downing Street is suggested as being triggered by a chorus of voices accusing Beijing of playing down the true scale of the epidemic in China.
A chart shown at a Downing Street press briefing on 22 April compared the overtime coronavirus deaths of the UK, the US, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden, South Korea, and China, while China had been removed from an updated graph shown the following day, Thursday.
The figures presented in previous charts suggested that China's death tally was lower than that of other countries, such as the US, Italy and Spain.
Earlier, China’s fatalities were shown to have reached a plateau at an early stage in the coronavirus outbreak, along with countries like Germany, Sweden, and South Korea. Beijing recently revised the fatalities tally, adding some 1,290 deaths from the city of Wuhan, where the epidemic is believed to have originated from.
The addition boosted the nationwide death toll by nearly 40 percent, to 4,632, the National Health Commission said on Friday, with a majority coming from Hubei province where Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is located.
After Wuhan added cases in revision, the total confirmed number of people testing positive for the virus rose to 82,692, reported state news agency Xinhua.
China’s updated death toll is still around a fraction of the deaths registered across Europe and the United States. Over 53,900 have died in the US so far, according to Johns Hopkins University, while the deaths from the coronavirus in Italy and Spain are over 26,300 and 22,900, respectively.
The UK Government has set up a China Research Group to “promote debate and fresh thinking” over the country’s relationship with China in light of the allegations, as some Conservative MPs were cited as being apprehensive lest inaccurate figures could impede the UK's response to the coronavirus.
“This data is used to judge the effectiveness of our own response, whether good or bad. It's important we are comparing like with like, otherwise our own responses could be distorted, leading to more deaths in the UK,” Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee and founder of the research group, Tom Tugendhat was quoted by the outlet as saying.
“Clearly No 10 believes the same as the rest of the world — that China's data is unreliable and possibly false.”
As the chorus of voices urging to call out Beijing on its response to the pandemic gathers strength, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, has been fending off criticism for extolling China's response to the health crisis, and its “commitment to transparency”.
Recent allegations were spearheaded by US President Donald Trump, who branded the WHO as “China-centric”, vowing to “look into” that stance by the agency, and threatening to suspend US funding to the organisation until a probe has been carried out.
The latest developments come amid a flurry of speculation that China had procrastinated in raising a global alarm over the outbreak, and covered up the scale of the epidemic.
The UK media recently posted photos showing huge stacks of urns being delivered to funeral homes in Wuhan, China, and queues of people waiting outside to collect remains.
In Wuhan, families of coronavirus victims were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at local funeral homes beginning this week. Long lines and stacks of urns are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties.https://t.co/YviXesayE1 pic.twitter.com/3sYvUmPzhe— Tracy Alloway (@tracyalloway) March 27, 2020
Some Wuhan residents reportedly cast doubt on the official toll when speaking to Radio Free Asia.
“It can’t be right because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?” one resident was suggested by the Daily Mail as saying.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a briefing on 16 April that data revision is a common practice around the world and rejected allegations that the country has intentionally downplayed the scope of its outbreak.
“There has never been any cover up and we do not allow cover ups. China, in response to Covid-19, has done nothing that should be criticized.”