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Fact Check: Did 21 Million Cell Phones Really Disappear In China?

Did 21 million cell phones really disappear in China? Is China hiding actual coronavirus figures in their country? Check the facts regarding the viral rumour.

fact check

Claim: 21 million cell phones disappear in China

Rating: False

What is the rumour about?

The viral rumour is about the insane number of cell phone accounts (21 million) that suddenly disappeared in China. Hence, the people started believing that the number of mobile phones disappearing was equal to the number of deaths in China.

Who started the rumour?

  • Many articles came out a few days ago that mentioned the vanishing of 21 million mobile subscribers in China. 
  • This led to many social media users and even the online media portals co-relate the decrease in 21 million cell phones in China to the number of deaths in the country. 
  • The rumour then started speculating a conspiracy theory which indicated that China is hiding the number of deaths in the country. As the speculations connected the sudden vanishing of the 21 million mobile subscribers with the number of deaths in the country, which had been reported to be over 82,000.
  • Here is the YouTube video that released a few days ago which talked about the same rumour. The video has received over 4 lakhs views on YouTube till now. 

Video courtesy: laowhy86 YouTube

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Rating: False

Republic World did a fact check on the China cell phone disappearing rumour

  • The rumour that 21 million cell phones disappeared in China is misinterpreted.
  • The original news was about how China mobile carriers have lost 21 million subscribers amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. So, no mobile phones had actually vanished literally, it was just the number of mobile subscriptions that were cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The “China Mobile Ltd”, which is the world’s largest mobile carrier, has reported having its first decline in the number of users since 2000. This is due to the cuts in the business activity amidst the coronavirus crisis.
  • It is reported that within January and February, the subscriptions of “China Mobile Ltd” fell by more than 8 million, as mentioned on their company’s website.
  • Another China mobile carrier company called China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd lost 7.8 million users in the same period. While China Telecom corporation lost 5.6 million users in February.
  • Expert analysts believe that the drop in the mobile users could partly be responsible for the number of migrant workers who cancelled their work region mobile subscriptions as the virus prevented them from entering the country after the lunar holidays in China.
  • The migrant workers usually have one subscription for their work location and another subscription for their home region.  
  • Though the drop in the number of users is not normal, when looking at the bigger picture, the number of subscription cancellations is small with respect to the total number of wireless subscriptions that have risen for these 3 companies.
  • All the three companies, i.e. China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, observed a rise of 1.6 billion subscribers when the numbers of the three companies are added. So, the overall rising number of wireless connections with respect to the drop in the number of users is still small. 
  • The fallen numbers of the mobile carrier subscriptions are expected to see a rise starting from the end of March as the factories and other businesses in China are starting to resume in the second half of March.
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Image courtesy: WHO Esri

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Google Trends

Take a look at the number of people searching for this viral rumour. The highest number of searches were done on March 27, 2020. 

fact check, 21 million cell phones, china coronavirus deaths, is china hiding coronavirus deaths, coronavirus in india

Image courtesy: Google Trends

Take a look at how the many connected the number of people dying in China with the disappearing of the 21 million mobile subscribers in China. As both the keywords were seen to have the maximum number of searches on the same day. 

fact check, 21 million cell phones, china coronavirus deaths, is china hiding coronavirus deaths, coronavirus in india

Image courtesy: Google Trends

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fact check, 21 million cell phones, china coronavirus deaths, is china hiding coronavirus deaths, coronavirus in india

Image courtesy: Google Trends

Coronavirus in China - Latest updates

As of March 29, 2020, in China - 

Number of confirmed cases: 82,356

Number of deaths: 3,306

Number of cured cases -  74,000 + patients recovered


On March 30, (data source: Johns Hopkins University, national public health agencies)

The reported number of confirmed cases - 82,451

While the number of deaths - 3,311

Latest updates on COVID-19 in China

  • Currently, China is testing a century-old vaccine which could be used as a weapon against coronavirus.
  • According to the latest reports revealed by China's National Health Commission on March 19, the total number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in Hubei province is 67,799.
  • However, the US has now crossed China in the number of positive coronavirus cases that amounts to over 104,837.
  • Recently, a 57-year-old Wuhan shrimp seller was identified to be 'Patient Zero' of the COVID-19. She had reported having had a cold on December 10. 
  • China is also reported to be sharing its data about the COVID-19 with the US. The news came after US President Donald Trump held an hour-long conversation with Xi Jinping two days ago. 

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