Doubt surrounds China’s Covid death toll - GulfToday

Doubt surrounds China’s Covid death toll


There is a widespread suspicion that the Chinese government is under-reporting Covid infections and deaths.

For the first time since the Covid outbreak in November 2020, China has officially disclosed the number of people who had died of Covid and Covid-related causes. Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration under the National Health Commission, said in a media briefing that Covid-related deaths between December 8, 2022 and January 12, 2023 in hospitals was 59,938. He also said that 5,503 people died of respiratory failure, and the others because of various underlying ailments.

The figures show that the deaths occurred after the Chinese government abandoned the zero- Covid policy which was followed in the last one year, which resulted in stringent quarantine rules, and people protested. The figure of 59,938 is phenomenally high compared to the death figure of 5,000 since the Covid outbreak in late 2019. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is not convinced about the authenticity of the data revealed by the Chinese official. Jiao defended the Chinese position saying, “The standard is basically in line with those adopted by the World Health Organisation and other major countries.” She also said that the number of those in need of emergency treatment was falling, as well as those of testing positive at the fever clinics. China has lifted all restrictions on travel in the country and abroad as the Chinese Lunar New Year approaches, and millions of people go home. This is seen as an issue of concern because this could lead to greater infection rates.

There has been a general scepticism about the data released by the Chinese government, whether it is about the economy or about the COVID emergency. There is the suspicion that the Chinese government is under-reporting the figures, especially related to Covid infections and deaths. The Chinese officials have refuted this. But it does remain a debating point whether the zero- Covid policy which the Chinese government followed so strictly is the reason that the figures for Covid infections and deaths have been comparatively low compared to that of the United, States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and India. But there seems to be no way of verifying this.

It has also been difficult to pin down how the coronavirus epidemic broke out in China and how it spread to the rest of the world. The initial hypothesis that it emanated from the wet markets in Wuhan remains because the international team of experts from WHO which went to China and investigated the origins of Covid could not reach any get enough data to prove definitely the origins of the outbreak. But the strong rumour that it could be due to a leak from a virology research centre in Wuhan has been scotched.

It is also not clear how effective the Chinese vaccines like Sinovac have been because China has recently decided to import m-RNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna in the United States. China has however shared information about the genetic structure of the coronavirus with WHO so it was possible to study the mutation of the virus as it spread across the national borders. The earliest genome structure was extracted from patients who travelled from China. For example, the virus has been extracted and isolated from Indian students from China who came home to India in early 2020 and who were isolated and treated in Kerala. Those samples became the base for Indian virologists to study the mutations of the Wuhan variant.

Chinese leaders have promised time and again that they would share the clinical data related to Covid but there has been silence on the part of WHO whether this was done. There have been many mutations of Covid after the initial outbreak in November-December 2019 in China, but it would be helpful to study the trajectory of the virus from China as many countries in Europe and the Americas, and in India, have been enveloped by the epidemic.

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