Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch

True number of cases ‘5-10 times higher’

Australia's chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, says the true number of coronavirus cases around the world may be five or even ten times higher than the current official estimate.

"Worldwide, we've now passed a million reported cases of COVID-19," Prof Murphy said at a press conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra this afternoon.

"We believe that the true number is probably five or ten times as much as that, because we know that judging by the death rate, the testing rate, in many countries they're not detecting all the cases. There are some countries that don't have the capacity to test."


The official tally reached one million people today. According to Johns Hopkins University, there are now 1,015,709 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, with 53,030 deaths.

The United States has the highest number of reported cases with 245,213. Italy and Spain have each passed 100,000 as well.

"In Australia, we're now reporting 5274 cases," Prof Murphy said.

"But in Australia we're pretty confident that our testing has been probably the best in the world. We are very confident that while there will certainly be some undetected cases, we have a pretty good idea of the size of our outbreak."

He said the government's medical advice panel was "quitely pleased" with Australia's direction, but "we cannot stop" imposing measures to keep the virus under control, as community transmissions were still occurring.

Later in the media conference, Prof Murphy was asked whether he believed the official figures coming out of China - a particularly contentious issue at the moment.

Yesterday Bloomberg News revealed the existence of a classified US intelligence report, which concluded China was giving an inaccurate number of cases and deaths to the rest of the world. China has since responded angrily to the accusation.

"I think the only numbers I have total faith in are the Australian numbers, frankly, because we have the highest testing rate in the world," Prof Murphy said.

"I think China is in a really difficult position. They did clamp down incredibly hard, and they stopped transmission. But their population is not immune. They still have a lot of people in their population and they are, obviously, trying very hard to prevent a second wave.

"I think they have been pretty transparent, but as I said, I'm only confident about our numbers. I'm certainly not confident even the numbers out of the US aren't much higher than are being reported, because nobody else in the world has been doing testing like we have.

"Nobody else in the world got on to all those original cases out of Wuhan in January and contained them. That's why we are now dealing with what we know, rather than a huge community transmission that happened all through February in countries like Italy and the US. We're on top of the cases. But we still have a long way to go."

More to come.

Originally published as True number of cases '5-10 times higher'

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