Air Travel Data Suggests China Had Nearly 40 Times The COVID-19 Cases They Reported – View from the Wing


China reports a total of fewer than 80,000 confirmed cases and 4641 deaths from COVID-19. However there’s been a lot of skepticism about the numbers China has reported dating to early stages of the virus. Some of this is that China has only included symptomatic cases in their confirmed infection counts and doesn’t report multiple causes of death, and the most vulnerable COVID patients have confounding conditions.

There were reports of 40,000 excess urns being delivered to funeral homes in Wuhan. Another estimate is 26,000 Wuhan deaths from COVID-19.

Now a RAND Corporation study looks at travel patterns to estimate “China’s reported COVID-19 caseload was undercounted by a factor of nearly 40.”


  • If you believe Chinese infection data, and air passenger data, then on average you’d expect a total of one COVID-positive person to have traveled abroad to either Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and the United States by January 22.
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  • But the virus was spreading in all of these countries at that point.

    If there were an average of 172 total cases per day in China through January 22, 2020, the odds of Japan and Taiwan importing even one case by that date would be 9 percent each. The odds of Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, and Taiwan all reporting cases would be only one in 1.3 million.

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  • To have an even (50/50) chance of COVID spreading to all five countries, as it had by January 22, you’d need an infection rate 37 times greater than China officially reports.

Credit: Rand Corporation

Perhaps Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson is wrong about how well China’s authoritarian system performs containing virus spread?

(HT: Greg R.)