China links Covid to 60,000 recent deaths

China links Covid to 60,000 recent deaths

Health authorities provide first updated data since zero-Covid curbs were scrapped in December

Health workers attend to Covid-19 patients in an intensive care unit converted from a conference room, at a hospital in Cangzhou in Hebei province of China on Jan 11. (China Daily via Reuters)
Health workers attend to Covid-19 patients in an intensive care unit converted from a conference room, at a hospital in Cangzhou in Hebei province of China on Jan 11. (China Daily via Reuters)

BEIJING: Chinese health authorities on Saturday reported almost 60,000 Covid-related deaths in just over a month, in the first major update released by the government since the loosening of its virus restrictions in early December.

The country recorded 59,938 Covid-related deaths between Dec 8, 2022 and Jan 12 this year, Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration under the National Health Commission, told a news conference.

The figure refers only to deaths recorded at medical facilities, with the total toll likely to be higher.

It includes 5,503 deaths caused by respiratory failure directly due to the virus, and 54,435 deaths caused by underlying diseases combined with Covid, Jiao said.

The number of people in hospital with “severe” Covid cases is also starting to decline, authorities said. They gave a figure of 105,000 as of Jan 12, compared with 128,000 on Jan 5, without elaborating on what constituted a “severe” case.

Tens of millions of people are now believed to have become infected, though the vast majority of cases are mild and authorities say they have not detected any new variants so far.

China has been accused of underreporting its number of virus deaths since abandoning its zero-Covid policy in early December.

While international health experts have predicted at least 1 million Covid-related deaths in China this year, the country had previously reported just over 5,000 since the pandemic began, one of the lowest death rates in the world.

Health officials insisted as recently as Wednesday that it was “not necessary” to dwell on the exact number.

Beijing had previously revised its methodology for categorising Covid fatalities, saying it would count only those who die specifically of respiratory failure caused by the virus.

But this had been criticised by the World Health Organization, which said the new definition was “too narrow”.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said the organisation was continuing to “ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisation and deaths, as well as … viral sequencing”.

On Saturday health officials said the average age of those who died was 80.3 years old, with over 90% of fatalities above 65 years old.

Most suffered from underlying conditions, they said.

Millions of people over 60 years of age in China are still unvaccinated.

In a related report, a study estimates that nearly all of Beijing’s 22 million population will have been infected with the coronavirus by the end of this month.

About 92% of the people in China’s capital will have contracted Covid by the end of January, while 76% had already been infected by Dec 22, according to the study, which was published on Friday in the journal Nature Medicine.

The reproductive rate of the virus has increased to 3.44 since authorities scrapped restrictions, meaning one person with the virus can infect 3.44 others, it found.

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