A CHINESE media giant has sparked conspiracy theories after appearing to publish the coronavirus death toll as more than 24,589 – before changing it to 304.
Tencent, the multinational tech company that developed WeChat, reportedly listed figures for the coronavirus on Saturday showing 154,023 were infected.
Tencent’s webpage titled ‘Epidemic Situation Tracker’ was quickly updated to reflect the official figures of 14,446 infected and 304 dead at the time, according to Taiwan News.
The death toll has since risen to 563 in China, with 28,018 cases confirmed in the country.
Screen grabs showing the site’s apparently changing figures, have been widely shared online, sparking conspiracy rumours.
Tencent is yet to issue any statement on the matter.
This follows speculation that the Communist Party in Beijing may be hiding the true extent of the damage caused by the deadly virus.
The other erroneous or leaked figures posted included 79,808 suspected cases – four times the official numbers.
Pincong, a Chinese forum with a focus on censored topics, commented on the Tencent figures: “Don’t know if this is true, but it is certain that the real figures are higher [than the official ones].
“Because the majority of sufferers in Wuhan have sent their pleadings for help through WeChat, accusing hospitals of refusing to admit them after they had been infected.
“[Therefore], these deaths were not counted into the epidemic statistics. This is enough to show how serious the real situation is.”
However, some comments under the Pingcong post suggested that the viral screen grabs could have been digitally altered.
There have also been reports from crematorium workers in Wuhan – the epicentre of the virus – that they are being sent corpses not added to the official tally.
Meanwhile hospital staff have leaked videos purporting to show dead bodies across ward corridors in Wuhan.
The Chinese government silenced doctors in Wuhan who spoke out about coronavirus in the first weeks of the deadly epidemic.
After the first case of the bug was reported in early December, it took seven weeks for authorities to lockdown the city of 11 million people.
Amnesty International has condemned the heightened use of censorship, arbitrary detentions and other restrictions carried out in China as authorities bid to control information surrounding the outbreak.
They said numerous articles have been censored since the beginning of the crisis, including those by mainstream media organisations.
Amnesty’s regional director, Nicholas Bequelin, said: “The Chinese authorities risk withholding information that could help the medical community tackle the coronavirus and help people protect themselves from being exposed to it.
“The fact that some of this information is not available to everyone increases the risk of harm from the coronavirus and delays an effective response.”