NEWS China reports sharp rise in COVID-related deaths after data criticized

China reports sharp rise in COVID-related deaths after data criticized
  • Nearly 60,000 COVID-related hospital deaths reported
  • China criticized for underreporting COVID deaths
  • Emergency hospitalizations have peaked, officials say
  • Travel resumes ahead of Lunar New Year holiday

BEIJING, Jan 14 (Reuters) – China said on Saturday that nearly 60,000 COVID-19 patients had died in hospitals since abandoning its zero-COVID policy last month, more than before global criticism of the country’s coronavirus outbreak. The number reported after the virus data has increased significantly.

Cases across the country of 1.4 billion people surged in early December after Beijing abruptly rolled back its three-year stringent anti-virus regime, which included frequent testing, travel restrictions and a massive lockdown, following widespread protests in late November.

COVID fevers and emergency hospitalizations have peaked and the number of hospitalized patients continues to decline, a health official said Saturday.

Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12, COVID-related deaths in Chinese hospitals totaled 59,938, Jiao Yahui, head of the National Health Commission’s (NHC) Medical Affairs Bureau, told a news conference.

Of those deaths, 5,503 were attributable to respiratory failure from COVID and the rest were due to a combination of COVID and other illnesses, she said.

While international health experts predict at least 1 million deaths from COVID-19 this year, China has previously reported just over 5,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the lowest death rates in the world.

Authorities have been reporting five or fewer deaths per day for the past month — a figure that doesn’t match the long lines at funeral homes and body bags leaving crowded hospitals.

The World Health Organization said this week that China had grossly undercounted the number of COVID-19 deaths, even though it has now provided more information about its outbreak.

The UN agency had no immediate comment on Saturday.

China, which last reported daily COVID deaths on Monday, has repeatedly defended the veracity of its disease data.

On Saturday, Jiao said China divides COVID-related deaths into deaths from respiratory failure caused by coronavirus infection and deaths from underlying diseases combined with coronavirus infection.

“The standard is basically in line with the standard adopted by the World Health Organization and other major countries,” she said.

Last month, a Chinese health expert told a government news conference that only deaths from pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting COVID were classified as COVID deaths. A heart attack or cardiovascular disease that kills an infected person would not get this classification.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the tenfold increase in the number of deaths announced on Saturday suggested that China’s COVID policy reversal was “really linked” to a sharp rise in severe cases and deaths, especially among the elderly. people.

However, he said it was unclear whether the new figures accurately reflected the actual death toll because doctors were discouraged from reporting COVID-related deaths and the figures only included hospital deaths.

“In rural areas, for example, many elderly people died at home but were not tested for COVID-19 due to unavailability of test kits or reluctance to be tested,” he said.

“downward trend”

Jiao, a Chinese health official, said the number of patients requiring urgent treatment was falling, as was the proportion of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 in fever clinics. She added that the number of severe cases has also peaked, but remains high and the patients are mostly elderly.

China will boost the supply of medicines and medical equipment in rural areas and boost training for frontline medical workers in those areas, officials said.

“Whether it is urban or rural, the number of fever clinic visits generally shows a downward trend after the peak,” Jiao said.

A sharp increase in travel ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions of people are set to return from cities to small towns and rural areas, has heightened fears of a spike in cases during the celebrations that began on Jan. 21.

This week, the WHO warned of the risks posed by holiday travel. China reopened its borders on January 8.

Air passenger traffic in China has recovered to 63% of 2019 levels since the start of the annual tourist season on Jan. 7, despite infection concerns, an industry regulator said on Friday.

The Ministry of Transport forecasts that passenger traffic will increase by 99.5% year-on-year during the festive migration period, which will last until February 15, or recover to 70.3% of 2019 levels.

In Macau, China’s gaming hub, 46,000 daily tourist arrivals on Friday were the highest since the start of the pandemic, most of them from the mainland, the city government said. The Spring Festival tourism industry is expected to usher in a boom.

($1=6.7010 RMB)

Additional reporting by Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Helen Popper and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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