Under pressure, China is partially acknowledging the scale of deaths linked to the recent wave of Covid  19

Under pressure, China is partially acknowledging the scale of deaths linked to the recent wave of Covid 19

A woman wearing protective gear against the coronavirus in Shanghai on January 9, 2023. A woman equipped with protective devices against the coronavirus in Shanghai, January 9, 2023. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

The pressure had become too great. Chinese authorities on Saturday, January 14, acknowledged that the number of deaths related to Covid-19 was much higher than previously reported. Between December 8, 2022, the first Covid day after zero, and January 12, the death toll from the disease in Chinese hospitals stood at 59,938, said Jiao Yahui, director of the Bureau of Medical Administration within the National Health Commission. Of that number, 5,503 deaths are due to respiratory failure and the remaining 54,435 result from a combination of Covid-19 and other conditions. The median age of those who died was 80.3 years, she said. Nine out of ten patients who died were 65 years and older.

Until then, China only counted deaths due to respiratory failure and no deaths “related to” Covid-19. This very restrictive definition has been criticized by the international community and the World Health Organization (WHO). The latter welcomed the new Chinese communication. After a phone call on Saturday between Ma Xiaowei, director of the National Health Commission, and doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, the latter said he “appreciated” the information provided by China. He nonetheless requested that this detailed information “continue to be shared” in the future, the WHO statement said.

The data provided seems to indicate that the epidemic has peaked. The number of severe cases reportedly peaked on January 5 with 128,000 cases, up from 105,000 a week later. Officially, the occupancy rate of hospital beds in the ICU was 75.3% on January 12. WHO is cautious and wants China to release more data by province. The organization is also urging Beijing to continue sharing the sequencing of the virus.

“Many non-hospital deaths”

The WHO judges more fundamentally: “Overall, the epidemiology (…) is similar to the waves of infection in other countries, as is the increasing pressure on health services”. Clearly, China’s zero-Covid policy, followed from January 2020 to December 7, 2022, has not made it possible to protect against the virus permanently, only delaying the deadlines by three years. Especially since the real number of deaths is much higher than the reported 59,938, since this last figure only takes into account deaths that occurred in hospital.

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