According to Chinese state media reports, five officials in the city of Jingmen – located in Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak – have been mildly disciplined for reporting a negative number of virus infections.
Nine other cities have been caught fudging the numbers by reporting negative patients, but Jingmen was the worst with -107 new patients reported.
The “punishment” for cooking the books on the world’s top health crisis amounted to verbal warnings and a few black marks on the resumes of the offending Jingmen officials, according to Chinese media reports summarized by the Epoch Times:
The city’s Party boss Zhang Aiguo and the mayor Sun Bin received an admonishment.
The vice mayor Liang Zaoyang received a verbal warning and a record of “wrong behavior” in his official resume. The director and deputy director of the city’s health commission, Li Zhizhen and Li Ai’e, both received a “severe warning” and a record of “severe wrong behavior” in their official resumes.
The watchdog agency said that these officials “didn’t understand the policy accurately, didn’t do their job properly, and didn’t check the reported data strictly,” which “caused a bad impact [to society].”
The erroneous numbers were discovered when daily tallies of new coronavirus patients showed more new cases in Wuhan, a single city that serves as the capital of Hubei province, than in the entire province. This could only mean some of the cities were submitting a negative number of cases, an error attributed by Chinese officials to shifting standards for coronavirus testing that essentially disqualified some patients flagged by earlier testing standards.
Observers who are not employed by the Chinese government suggested it was more likely the Hubei city officials were responding to the usual perverse incentives of Communist bureaucracy by adjusting the numbers to make themselves look better:
U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan said that Chinese officials likely lowered the numbers because it shows to their superiors that they are doing a good job in combating the outbreak.
After people complained, “provincial-level officials are asking city-level officials to take the responsibility for reporting irrational data,” Tang said. “It shows you how ridiculous the official data is.”
After days of confident assurances that the epidemic has peaked in China, the number of new cases rose slightly on Thursday, up to 433 from 406 on Wednesday. Most of the new cases were reported in Hubei province, while Beijing appears to be grappling with an outbreak among employees of a property management agency, leading to accusations that some Chinese companies are not doing a good enough job of monitoring staff and isolating the sick, especially in operations that include crowded offices and dormitories.
The total number of confirmed cases in China is now 78,497 with a total of 2,744 fatalities.