THE true death toll of the coronavirus may never be known, with a report claiming that China is cremating bodies in secret to hide its scale.
The number of confirmed cases has continued to climb in recent days, and now stands at more than 11,700 globally, with 290 people known to have died.
But Chinese-language news outlet Initium has this week interviewed a number of people working at crematoriums in the eastern city of Wuhan, where the original outbreak occurred.
Those workers alleged that bodies had been being sent from hospitals without being properly identified or officially recorded.
William Yang, East Asia correspondent for English-language German broadcaster DW News, said the allegations were credible.
“There are reasons to remain sceptical about what China has been sharing with the world,” he said.
“Because while they have been more transparent about certain things related to the virus, they continue to be sketchy and unreliable in other aspects.”
He added how the current death toll is “way too low” for what it should be, and that the cremation claims “make sense”.
The latest allegations follow earlier reports that China initially tried to stop news of the virus spreading within the country by arresting eight people who had been discussing it online.
Those people are thought to have drawn comparisons between the current epidemic and Sars, a virus that causes severe respiratory difficulties and which killed more than 700 people in 17 countries in 2002-3, and to have been accused of “publishing or forwarding false information” without verification.
The current outbreak, it was later discovered, is of a type of virus from the same family – known as coronaviruses – as Sars.
A number of journalists, including some from Hong Kong, were also reportedly detained while trying to report on the story.
As late as January 14, one team who had been filming at a hospital had all their footage and photographs confiscated and destroyed by authorities.
UK authorities this morning said that two people in Newcastle had been confirmed to have the virus and quarantined.
Up to 2,000 Brits were in Wuhan when the outbreak occurred, with those returning set to be put in quarantine for two weeks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted on Wednesday: “We are working hard to get British nationals back from Wuhan.
“Public safety is the top priority.
“Anyone who returns from Wuhan will be safely isolated for 14 days, with all neccessary medical attention.”