China’s Wuhan city, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, on Friday abruptly raised its toll from the pandemic by 50%, from 2,579 to 3,869, AFP reported. The country admitted that many cases were “mistakenly reported” or missed entirely.

The updated figure, detailed in a social media posting by the city government, comes after weeks of scepticism about the reported deaths, as other countries have seen fatalities reach more than 10,000. On Wednesday, AP had reported that Wuhan had also hosted a mass banquet on the occasion of the Lunar New Year for tens of thousands of people, six days before the Chinese government made it public that a pandemic had broken out.

After the revised numbers, the nationwide toll has increased by nearly 39% to 4,632, based on official national data released on Friday. Authorities explained the updation by noting that some hospitals were overwhelmed early in the outbreak, leading to cases being incorrectly reported, delayed, or omitted.

On Thursday, state-run CCTV said the government was updating the numbers in accordance with the law. “Coronavirus figures not only concern people’s health and lives, but also the credibility of the government,” the special government operation team overseeing epidemic containment efforts in Wuhan was quoted as saying. “The revision of the figures not only protects citizens’ also shows the government’s respect for each individual.”

The coronavirus, which has infected 21.57 lakh people and caused 1.44 lakh deaths, is believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in Wuhan that has been closed and boarded up since January.

China accuses US of diverting attention

However, later on Friday, China denied any subterfuge and said it has not covered up the extent of its coronavirus outbreak. It also accused the US of trying to divert public attention, according to PTI.

“I want to emphasise that the revision of the data regarding infectious disease is an internationally accepted practice,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a media briefing.

He attributed the revision of figures to late reports, omissions, and inaccurate information during the early stages of the outbreak. “But there has never been any concealment, and we’ll never allow any concealment,” Zhao said.

Responding to reports that the United States was trying to determine the origins of the coronavirus and whether the pandemic began when the pathogen accidentally escaped a Chinese laboratory, Zhao said that the US was accusing China of not informing them of the pandemic in a timely manner.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also called on Beijing “to come clean” on what it knows about the outbreak. These statements came after a US report said the coronavirus was a naturally occurring pathogen that leaked from a Wuhan facility because of lax safety protocols, infecting an intern, who then transmitted it to her boyfriend. The report said the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory not as a bioweapon, but as part of China’s effort to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the United States.

“The same people are now hyping up the issue of the source of the virus, insinuating that the virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Zhao said. “A discerning person will understand at a glance that the purpose is to create confusion, divert public attention, and shirk their responsibility. I’ll repeat what we said already many times. Tracing the source of the virus is a serious scientific issue. We need to listen to science and respect scientific and professional opinions.”

He added: “I would like to remind you that the World Health Organisation has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence showing the virus was made in a lab. Many renowned medical specialists in the world have also debunked the ‘lab leakage’ theory as not science-based at all,” he added.