As China relaxes lockdown measures and people return to work, they are concerned about the possibility that asymptomatic carriers will continue spreading the virus. For the last two weeks, health authorities have reported an almost zero rate of local transmission of the virus, with almost all new cases coming in from outside the country.
But critics say officials are downplaying the outbreak by not including asymptomatic cases. China has not released data for the number of asymptomatic cases, but Chinese researchers estimated that 59% of those who contracted the virus had mild or no symptoms.
Documents seen by the South China Morning Post reportedly showed more than 40,000 asymptomatic patients that would not have been included in China’s total number of infections of more than 80,000.
Such patients, usually found by tracing the contacts of confirmed cases, are quarantined for 14 days and released if they do not show any symptoms. But the number of reports of new cases has started to worry the public.
In an editorial on Sunday, the financial news magazine Caixin called on the government to publish data on asymptomatic carriers. “Within China, transmission caused by asymptomatic infections has occurred many times. The number needs to be made public as soon as possible. Investigation and research is needed to raise the public’s alertness,” it said.
Chinese Infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong said that asymptomatic carriers would continue to pose a major risk, even as China took measures, such as temporarily banning foreigners from entering the country.
“Now, we only allow Chinese people to come back. But when our country’s doors open again, there will be large numbers coming in. When they are asymptomatic, the risk is great.”