As of Saturday, China has reported 60,000 deaths resulting from COVID-19 since early December, with the government stating that the emergency peak of the latest surge appears to have passed.
However, these numbers may not fully reflect the true toll, as the figures only include those who died in hospitals and not those who passed away at home.
Additionally, the report more than doubles China’s official COVID-19 death toll to 10,775 since the disease was first identified in Wuhan in late 2019.
China’s official death toll only includes fatalities from pneumonia or respiratory failure, which is a narrow definition that excludes many deaths that would be attributed to COVID-19 in other parts of the world.
Despite a significant increase in COVID-19 cases beginning in October, China abruptly lifted anti-virus controls in early December and halted the reporting of data on infections and deaths.
This has resulted in hospitals, funeral homes, and crematoriums being overwhelmed with patients and the dead.
The World Health Organization and other governments have called for more information, as reports by local and regional governments suggest that potentially hundreds of millions of people in China may have been infected by the virus.
National Health Commission official Jiao Yahui has stated that infection numbers appear to be decreasing, as evidenced by a decline in the number of patients visiting fever clinics. The daily number of people visiting these clinics reached a peak of 2.9 million on December 23rd and has since decreased by 83% to 477,000 on Thursday, according to Jiao.
However, it is difficult to assess whether China has truly passed the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, as experts have raised concerns about the country’s quarantine measures, the number of unvaccinated people, and the vulnerability of the population.
Additionally, Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease physician and professor of public health at the Yale School of Public Health, has stated that the number of reported COVID-19 deaths in China may be a significant underestimation due to the way in which they are defined.
“They’re using a very narrow case definition for (COVID) deaths,” Dr. Albert said further explaining that . “They have to have respiratory failure … in order to be counted as a case you have to be at a place where they can say you fulfilled all the requirements, and that’s at a hospital.”
Dr. Ko further stated that Hospitals in China, are located mostly in large cities where COVID outbreaks have been reported, not in isolated rural areas.
For nearly three years, China’s infection rate and death toll remained much lower than those of the United States and other countries during the peak of the pandemic, thanks to a “zero-COVID” strategy that aimed to isolate each case.
This approach resulted in the restriction of access to some cities, the forced stay-at-home of millions of people, and sparked public discontent in the form of protests.
In early December, the strict rules that had been put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 were abruptly lifted after a series of protests against the ruling Communist Party. This created new challenges for China, which relies on domestically developed vaccines that are less effective than those used globally, and where older individuals, who are more susceptible to dying from the virus, are less likely to be vaccinated than the general population.
According to the National Health Commission, the average age of those who have died from COVID-19 since December 8th is 80.3 years, and 90.1% are aged 65 and above. Moreover, more than 90% of people who died had underlying health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, or kidney problems.
As a result of the recent surge in cases, several countries, including the United States, South Korea, and Japan, have imposed virus testing and other controls on individuals arriving from China. Additionally, Beijing has suspended the issuance of new visas to travelers from South Korea and Japan.
The World Health Organization has also called on China to share more information about the COVID-19 situation, including hospitalization rates and genetic sequences.