China has been accused of covering up a horrific coronavirus death toll of tens of thousands of people and unleashing a potential wave of new infections by taking the city at the epicentre of the outbreak out of quarantine.
Communist Party officials are suspected of manipulating statistics to hide a cataclysmic body count in Wuhan in Hubei province in a cynical ploy to allow it to sprint ahead of other major economies by getting back to business as vast swathes of the world remain paralysed by the pandemic.
Incredibly, Beijing claims only 3,336 people have been killed by Covid-19 in China – just over a third of Britain’s current total and one 30th of the global toll.
Chinese officials now report almost zero new infections. Even more astonishingly, China says only 119 people have died in its 25 provinces outside Hubei – many of them the size of European countries – while simultaneously killing more than 102,000 people outside China.
All but two of those provinces claim to have had zero deaths or less than ten deaths.
For that scenario to be true, Covid-19 would have had to miraculously bypass more than 1.3billion people in the rest of China even as people travelled freely in and out of Wuhan, which is linked by air and high-speed rail to Beijing and Shanghai and cities across China, from the start of the November outbreak until the January 23 lockdown.
But as China triumphantly returns to business as usual and lifts a travel ban on Wuhan where the virus began, critics and sources within the country claim its statistics defy logic and warn its decision to lift the quarantine is triggering panic among Chinese citizens.
A Mail on Sunday investigation drawing on reports from inside China found hospitals were told to discharge patients after President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on March 10 to effectively declare victory over the virus.
China’s own citizens believe the real death figures are ten to 40 times higher than official figures, while a prominent US-based dissident says hundreds of thousands may have died.
• George Knowles contributed this for the Mail on Sunday