China reported 60,000 coronavirus-related deaths in one month

China reported nearly 60,000 Covid-related deaths in one month

China on Saturday reported nearly 60,000 Covid-related deaths in just over a month, the first major toll announced by authorities since Beijing eased virus restrictions in early December.

The government has been widely accused of underreporting the number of coronavirus deaths since abandoning the zero Covid policy.

Only a few dozen deaths were officially recorded in December before the Sabbath was declared, although there is evidence of crematoriums and hospitals.

But an official with the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Saturday that China had recorded 59,938 Covid-related deaths between December 8 and January 12.

The figure only refers to deaths in medical facilities, with the total likely higher.

The data includes 5,503 deaths caused by respiratory failure directly caused by the virus, and 54,435 deaths caused by underlying conditions with Covid, said Jiao Yahui, head of the NHC's Office of Medical Management, at a press conference.

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

The World Health Organization criticized that and said the definition was "too narrow."

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the organization continues to "demand China for more rapid, regular and reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as ... viral sequences".

However, Beijing has insisted it has been transparent with the international community about its data, urging the WHO to "stick to a scientific, objective and fair stance."

Health officials insisted on Wednesday that it was unnecessary to dwell on the exact number of deaths, and the NHC no longer releases an official daily COVID-19 death toll.

"I don't think it is necessary to look at the cause of death for each case. The main task during an epidemic should be treated," the head of a government-appointed expert panel said during a press conference.

Another expert at the same press conference suggested that China could quantify the number of Covid deaths after the fact by looking at the overall excess fatality rate.

Independent infection models painted a grim picture of the ultimate toll.

The University of Hong Kong researchers estimated that nearly a million Chinese could die this winter.

Health risk analysis firm Airfinity predicted 11,000 deaths and 1.8 million infections per day, for a total of 1.7 million deaths by the end of April.

The British-based research firm said its model is based on data from China's regional provinces before changes to infection reporting were implemented, along with case growth rates from other countries before the non-Covid situation when restrictions were lifted.

- Seniors at risk -

Health officials said Saturday that the average age of those who died was 80.3, with more than 90 percent of deaths over the age of 65.

They said most of them had underlying conditions.

Millions of China's elderly are not fully vaccinated, with President Xi Jinping's government criticized for not prioritizing immunization campaigns among the country's most vulnerable citizens.

During the outbreak in Hong Kong last year, vaccine hesitancy among the elderly was a major factor in the high death toll.

Of the more than 10,500 deaths in that wave, 67 percent were unvaccinated, and more than 95 percent of those killed were 60 or older, according to the Hong Kong government.

Officials also suggested on Saturday that the peak of the current wave may have passed.

They added that fewer than 2.9 million patients visited fever clinics on December 23, but that number had fallen to 477,000 nationwide by January 12.

They said the number of critically ill patients in hospitals remains high, but the peak appeared in early January.

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