5,000 Covid deaths a day likely in China

5,000 Covid deaths a day likely in China

Daily caseload could top 4 million by March, says analytics firm

Beds are seen in a fever clinic that was set up in a sports arena in Beijing on Tuesday. (Reuters Photo)
Beds are seen in a fever clinic that was set up in a sports arena in Beijing on Tuesday. (Reuters Photo)

China is likely experiencing 1 million Covid-19 infections and 5,000 virus deaths every day as it grapples with what is expected to be the biggest outbreak the world has ever seen, according to a new analysis.

The situation could get even worse for the country of 1.4 billion people. The current wave may push the daily case rate to 3.7 million by January, according to Airfinity Ltd, a London-based analytics firm. There will likely then be another surge of infections that will push the daily peak to 4.2 million in March, the group estimated.

Its modelling of the scale and toll of China’s outbreak, which uses provincial data, shows the impact of the country’s abrupt pivot away from zero-Zero far exceeds the government’s tally.

Officially, China reported 2,966 new cases for Wednesday and there have been fewer than 10 Covid deaths since the beginning of December. But that contrasts with a growing chorus of reports that hospitals are being overwhelmed with patients and crematoriums are being pushed well beyond their capacity. 

Changes to how the government reports virus figures is also a factor. China has largely shut down its vast network of mass-testing booths and scrapped efforts to include every single infection in the daily tally, leaving residents to rely on rapid tests with no obligation to report the results.

The country’s health regulator also quietly adopted a narrower definition for what is considered a Covid death — and much more selective than what many Western nations use — making it difficult to gauge the real toll from the current deluge of infections.

These changes mean “the official data is unlikely to be a true reflection of the outbreak being experienced across the country,” said Louise Blair, Airfinity’s head of vaccines and epidemiology. “This change could downplay the extent of deaths seen in China.”

Only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting Covid will be classified as having been caused by the coronavirus, a leading Chinese medical expert said on Tuesday.

Deaths from complications at other sites in the body, including underlying conditions made worse by the virus, would be excluded from the official toll, said Wang Guiqiang, head of the infectious disease department at Peking University First Hospital.

Experts familiar with hospital protocols in China told Reuters that such cases were not always excluded previously, though sometimes Covid would be ruled out as a cause of death if a formerly positive patient had tested negative a day or two before dying.

Wang said the criteria had changed because the Omicron variant is less likely to cause other life-threatening symptoms, though China's hospitals are still required to judge each case to ascertain precisely whether or not Covid was the ultimate cause.

Accurately capturing the Covid situation remains difficult across the world as the change to living with the virus means that fewer countries test frequently.

The emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant sparked a jump in infections, including in the United States which posted its highest daily case count to date at nearly 1.4 million infections in January 2022. That coincided with the global number exceeding 4 million, according to Our World in Data.

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