A spate of new confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus in several Chinese prisons has renewed concerns surrounding the under-reporting of cases, as well as the rapid spread of the virus in clusters. Three Chinese provinces reported outbreaks at penitentiaries on Friday, raising the official case count by several hundred.
Cases were found in prisons in the coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Shangding, as well as the central province of Hubei, which as the center of the epidemic.
The health commission of Hubei reported the number of confirmed cases at over 200, Xinhua News Agency reported. According to the New York Times, the number of new cases exceeds 500, reporting that at least 500 prisoners and guards in at least four different prisons across three provinces have been infected.
Over 200 of these cases were found at a prison in the city of Jining, 450 miles east of Wuhan, where the epidemic originated. Officials suggested the Jining outbreak may have been from a coughing prison guard who turned out to be infected.
The new cases raise the overall total of infections in China to over 75,000, while the death toll has risen by 118, to 2,236.
The outbreak comes as a relative surprise, even as the rate of new infections and deaths reported daily has fallen, indicating the epidemic’s spread may be diminishing. However, officials at the Hubei health commission said the prison system was not connected to the rest of the province’s disease reporting system. Officials also made a rare acknowledgement that the government’s repeated efforts to change the way coronavirus cases are counted breeds the potential for the under-counting of cases, generating mistrust and confusion.
The World Health Organization reported on Friday that the overall number of new cases within China had fallen significantly as the country changed the way it reports cases, switching back to requiring a confirmed laboratory test rather than just a clinical diagnosis, The Wall Street Journal reports.
“The adjustment of these data has aroused great attention from the society and cast doubt on the numbers,” Tu Yuanchao, deputy director of the Hubei Provincial Health and Health Commission, said at a news conference on Friday, referring to both the new prison cases and recent adjustments to how Hubei defines a confirmed case.
The Communist Party’s political and legal affairs commission sent a team to investigate one of the prisons, where the head of the national Prison Management Bureau, He Ping, said the outbreak was attributed to inadequate prevention and control measures.