Nearly half a million Wuhan residents may have been infected with coronavirus – almost 10 times the city’s official number of confirmed cases – a study by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests.

The research aimed to estimate the scale of previous infections by testing blood serum samples from a number of people in different cities for coronavirus antibodies.

The number of people with antibodies among the sample group from Wuhan is higher than would be expected given the official number of confirmed cases in the city, which was the original epicentre of the pandemic.

The study focused on 34,000 people in Wuhan as well as in other cities to estimate infection rates, CNN reported.

Beijing and Shanghai were included in the study, as well as cities in the provinces of Hubei, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Sichuan and Lianoning.

Among residents in Wuhan, home to some 11 million people, researchers found an antibody prevalence rate of 4.43 per cent. 

Nearly half a million Wuhan residents may have been infected with coronavirus – almost 10 times the city’s official number of confirmed cases – a study by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests. Pictured: A woman walks during a snow shower in Wuhan on December 29

The city’s Municipal Health Commission had reported a total of 50,354 confirmed cases as of Sunday, according to CNN. 

China’s CDC said the study had been conducted a month after China ‘contained the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic’ and that it revealed a much higher prevalence rate found among Wuhan residents.

In other cities in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, only 0.44% of people studied were found to have coronavirus antibodies.

This continued to drop outside the province, where antibodies were only found in two people among the more than 12,000 studied. 

China’s CDC posted the results of the study on social media on Monday. It is not clear whether the research has been published in academic journals. 

CNN reported that Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the study highlights the underreporting of infections during the height of the outbreak.

This was partly due to a failure at the time to include asymptomatic cases in the official count, along with the general havoc of tackling the new virus.

Wuhan’s hospitals were flooded with patients suffering from fevers in January and February of last year, overwhelming staff who lacked the resources to effectively diagnose and treat the large number of patients.

The city’s Municipal Health Commission has reported a total of 50,354 confirmed cases, according to CNN. Pictured: A man shops in the Huanan Seafood market in Wuhan, which was linked to a number of early cases of the coronavirus. While the ‘wet market’ section where the disease is believed to have originated has been shut down, the optics shops on the second floor remain open 

Life in the city of 11 million people, which was the original epicentre of the pandemic, is slowly returning to normal. Pictured: A man visits an exhibition called People First, Lives First about China’s Covid-19 response at the Culture Expo Centre, which used to be a makeshift hospital in Wuhan, China

Many were told to self-isolate at home. In some cases this led to other family members becoming infected or even to people dying at home without being included in the toll. 

Huang told CNN the considerably lower rates in other Chinese cities suggest China’s containment efforts ‘were indeed speedy and effective’. 

Wuhan was completely sealed off from the outside world on January 23, with all transport in and out of the city suspended. 

A brutal 76- day lockdown was imposed on the city’s millions of residents who were confined to their homes, unable to even go out to buy essentials. 

Despite the harshness of the lockdown in Wuhan, it has been feted by the Chinese government as having enabled the country to contain the outbreak and return to normal more quickly than most other nations.   

When releasing the results of the antibody study on Monday, China’s CDC also praised the containment efforts. 

‘The results of the study show that our country’s population has a low infection rate. It indicates that China has succeeded in controlling the epidemic with Wuhan as the main battlefield, and effectively controlled the large-scale spread of the epidemic,’ the agency said.

The Chinese government has hailed the brutal 76-day lockdown in Wuhan as a success in containing the virus and allowing the country to return to normal sooner than the majority of others. Pictured: Shoppers in Wuhan on December 28

While issues around underreporting are not exclusive to China and antibody studies in other parts of the world have also indicated that coronavirus was considerably more prevalent than official figures would suggest, China has faced criticism for its initial handling of the pandemic.

Officials have been accused of a lack of transparency around coronavirus figures, with officials releasing more optimistic data to the public and keeping some negative figures internal, according to CNN. 

A whistleblower provided documents to the broadcaster that showed that health officials were aware of ‘clinically diagnosed cases’ of coronavirus before these figures were revealed to the general public. 

Once officials began including these cases in the daily tally of confirmed infections on February 12, the number increased nine-fold from the previous day. 

Documents also showed that on February 10 and March 7, officials publicly announced a lower case count than they recorded internally.

Authorities in China have also moved to silence doctors and citizen journalists who spoke out about the dire situations in Wuhan’s hospitals.

On Monday, a former lawyer who documented the height of the Wuhan outbreak was sentenced to four years in jail.

Zhang Zhan’s sentence, which has been roundly criticised by the international community, was for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’. Fellow independent journalists Li Zehua and Fang Bin were also detained for their pandemic coverage.   

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