In Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, one person has died for every 23 infections reported. That number drops to one on 50 nationally, and outside mainland China, one death has been recorded per 114 confirmed cases.
Experts say the discrepancy is mainly due to under-reporting of milder virus cases in Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province that are grappling with shortages in testing equipment and beds.
"In an outbreak your really have to interpret fatality rates with a very skeptical eye, because often it's only the very severe cases that are coming to people's attention," said Amesh Adalja, an expert in pandemic preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
"It's very hard to say those numbers represent anything like the true burden of infection" said Adalja, who estimates current fatality rates are likely below 1%.