Time for China to align with global practice in counting coronavirus cases

Time for China to align with global practice in counting coronavirus cases

In a government statement about the latest Covid-19 outbreak in China’s Kashgar city on Tuesday, there were five confirmed cases but a further 178 without symptoms tested positive.

The seemingly contradictory report relates to China’s unique definition of Covid-19 confirmed cases, which excludes positive patients who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. The 178 people who tested positive are not counted as confirmed cases, although some will be included later when they show symptoms.

China’s controversial definition sparked concerns, particularly in Wuhan in March when residents heard about positive cases in their neighbourhoods while the tally of confirmed cases did not change.

China began to release figures counting asymptomatic cases from April. But they are not counted as confirmed cases unless they develop symptoms or lung imaging is abnormal.

By late February, the South China Morning Post had learned about a third of positive cases were silent carriers or presymptomatic patients. But it is unclear how many asymptomatic cases China has had so far because accumulated figures were never released.