China yesterday revised the coronavirus death toll in the city of Wuhan by more than 1,000 to 3,869, saying it was doing so to be "responsible to history, the people and the deceased". The previous fatality tally was 2,579.
It also increased the number of confirmed cases by 325 to 50,333. This brings the overall death toll in China to over 4,600 and more than 83,000 confirmed cases.
According to state media, the health authorities said that as the epidemic is under control in Wuhan and the lockdown has been lifted, officials now have the capacity to "do a sweeping check" of Covid-19 cases in the city.
It acknowledged in a statement that miscounting and misreporting had happened in the early days of the outbreak as hospitals battled with an acute shortage of beds, medical supplies and staff.
Some patients were not hospitalised and died at home, said the statement by the Wuhan epidemic prevention and control command centre. Other medical institutions also did not report to the authorities quickly enough.
The new death toll puts the fatality rate in Wuhan at 7.7 per cent, said the Global Times.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected allegations that China had downplayed or concealed the extent of the outbreak, saying "there has never been any cover-up, and we'll never allow any cover-up".
He told reporters at a news briefing yesterday that data revision is a common international practice.
In an editorial, the Global Times described the revision as a "responsible correction".
"This is not a political problem, but rather a technical issue... But some people have questioned the number of Covid-19 deaths in China for political reasons and politicised the data."
The health authorities have come under pressure after photos of long lines of people waiting to collect urns containing their loved ones' ashes from funeral homes late last month emerged on social media.
That prompted questions of whether the official death tally had accurately reflected the scale of the epidemic.
Chinese media outlet Caixin reported that about 5,000 urns were moved by just one truck over two days to one funeral home.
Critics say there would have been many infected people who may have died from the virus but were excluded from the official death toll as they were not tested, although there is no estimate of how large this number is.
Some deaths would also have been classified as fatalities from other diseases.
When the epidemic erupted in the city in January, hospitals were sending people home, as there were not enough test kits and beds.