CLAIM: During an argument over the number of coronavirus deaths and cases in the first presidential debate on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump told Joe Biden, “You don’t know how many people really died in China or Russia” because “they don’t give a straight count.”
VERDICT: Outside analysts have strongly questioned the accuracy of coronavirus statistics reported by authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, and Iran as these countries are extremely resistant to allowing outside investigators to verify their information.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published a report in April that argued China’s claimed totals of coronavirus infections and deaths were mathematically impossible, since they assumed near-zero infections across the country before the epicenter of the outbreak, the city of Wuhan, was placed under quarantine. AEI pointed out that China simply refuses to release a great deal of the data necessary to track the spread of the virus beyond Wuhan and its surrounding Hubei province.
Several outside observers have noted the number of bodies cremated in Hubei province is over ten times the number of deaths officially admitted by the Chinese government. Funeral directors in Wuhan complained they were overwhelmed by the demand for their services.
Even officials in Iran, a nominal ally of China’s, grumbled that China’s coronavirus figures were a “bitter joke” in April. The Iranians were, at the time, angry with China for understating the menace of the pandemic and blamed that decision in part on the poor government response out of Tehran.
International researchers have also called Russia’s coronavirus data “questionable,” including the data provided for Russia’s vaccine trials. Russian and international media have challenged the accuracy of official infection and death counts. Even government officials within Russia have questioned official statistics. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin speculated in May that the real number of coronavirus cases in the country was triple that of the official count. Health officials revealed that month also that as many as 60 percent of those dying while confirmed carriers of coronavirus in Moscow were not counting towards government death statistics due to co-morbidities.
Trump is, therefore, on solid ground in stating that no one in the outside world can claim to know the real number of coronavirus infections and deaths in opaque authoritarian regimes like China and Russia.