China links Covid to 60,000 recent deaths

China links Covid to 60,000 recent deaths

Health authorities provide the first updated data since the zero-Covid curb was lifted 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 China’s Hebei province on January 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 issued by the government since easing its virus restrictions in early December.

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

The figure refers only to deaths registered in medical facilities, where the total number is 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” cases of Covid has also started to fall, authorities said. They gave a figure of 105,000 on January 12, compared with 128,000 on January 5, without elaborating on what constituted a “severe” case.

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

China has been accused of under-reporting its death toll from the virus 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 until Wednesday that it was “not necessary” to settle on the exact number.

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

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

The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had said that the organization was continuing to “ask China for more rapid, regular and reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as … viral sequencing”.

On Saturday, health officials said the average age of those who died was 80.3, with more than 90% of deaths over 65.

Most suffered from underlying illnesses, they said.

Millions of people over 60 in China are still unvaccinated.

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

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

The virus’s reproductive rate has risen to 3.44 since authorities lifted restrictions, meaning one person with the virus can infect 3.44 others, he found.

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