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Coronavirus: China's fall in phone users fuels death-toll doubts

Chinese mobile-phone companies lost millions of users in February, fuelling suggestions that the country’s coronavirus death toll is far higher than officially reported.

Ciudadana china, con su móvil.

What happened to the users of 20 million mobile-phone lines that disappeared in China in February?

That’s the question many are asking themselves after the country’s three main phone providers - China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom - saw their combined subscriptions fall from 1.6 billion to 1.58 billion - a drop that has stoked up speculation about the veracity of the nation’s official coronavirus death toll.

Actual China death toll rumoured to be six figures

Such doubts were also fuelled last week when the non-public Chinese media outlet Caixin reported that, according to its calculations, the number of deaths in the city of Wuhan alone was 40,000, far higher than the 2,500 officially registered.

In all, just over 3,300 people in China are confirmed to have died as a result of Covid-19, which originated in Wuhan, but the sudden disappearance of so many phone lines has encouraged suggestions that the real total could be as high as six figures.

Mass cancellation of no-longer-needed phone lines?

However, another explanation put forward for the telecom companies’ drop-off in business - for example, China Mobile lost seven million of its 900 million accounts - is that there was a mass cancellation of lines that were not needed during lockdown, as many customers have a WiFi internet connection in their home.

See also

What is Favipiravir, the drug used in China to fight Covid-19?

Hydroxychloroquine: what is it and can it help fight Covid-19?

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