China's top health body stops publishing daily Covid case numbers as infections soar

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China’s top health official has announced that it has stopped publishing daily numbers of Covid-19 cases, as reports say the true toll from the ongoing outbreak in the country is much worse than the official numbers published by authorities.

The National Health Commission (NHC) said on Sunday that “relevant information about the outbreak” would be published by the China CDC, a sub-department run by the NHC. The decision to delegate case counting to a lower authority comes as China is experiencing an unprecedented wave of coronavirus after a drastic easing of restrictions.

The statement did not say how often China’s CDC would publish its Covid reports. Traditionally, China’s CDC has only published monthly summaries for all infectious diseases regulated under Chinese law, from seasonal flu to hepatitis B and plague.

Since China dramatically eased its Covid restrictions earlier this month, there has been no clear data on the extent of the spread of the virus on a national level.

China no longer officially records its total number of infections after authorities closed its nationwide network of PCR testing booths and said they would stop collecting data on asymptomatic cases. People in China are now using rapid antigen tests to detect infections and are under no obligation to report positive results.

Medical staff wait to see a patient at a fever clinic treating patients with COVID-19 in Beijing on Dec 21, 2022.

Health authorities in China’s Zhejiang Province, located south of Shanghai, said on Sunday that they were seeing more than one million new cases of Covid-19 a day. The province has a population of 64 million according to the latest census data published in 2021. According to CNN calculations, it would indicate about 1,563 new daily infections per 100,000 people.

Zhejiang health commission deputy head Yu Xinle said the province’s current wave is expected to peak around New Year’s Day – with daily infection numbers reaching 2 million. which would amount to over 3,000 new daily cases per 100,000 people – and would last for a week before dropping.

The city of Qingdao, population 9 million in northern Shandong province, also reports about half a million new infections every day, city health chief Bo Tao told reporters on Friday. adding that the peak is yet to come. According to CNN calculations, this represents 5,556 infections per 100,000 population.

In the southern industrial hub of Dongguan, a city with a population of more than 10 million, health officials said on Friday they were seeing between 250,000 and 350,000 new cases daily.

“The peak of Covid infection is approaching… the number of infections is rising at a rapid pace in Dongguan, our health system and health workers are facing an unprecedented challenge and immense pressure,” said the health official of the city ​​in a statement.

For nearly three years, the Chinese government has used strict lockdowns, centralized quarantines, mass testing and strict contact tracing to contain the spread of the virus. That costly strategy was abandoned in early December after an explosion of protests across the country against strict restrictions that have crippled business and everyday life.

But experts have warned that the country is ill-prepared for such a drastic exit, having failed to increase the vaccination rate of the elderly, increase intensive care surge and capacity in hospitals and stock up on antiviral drugs.

A study in early December found that China’s abrupt and ill-prepared exit from Covid-0 could lead to nearly 1 million deaths.

Nearly 250 million people in China may have contracted Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December, according to an internal estimate by the country’s top health officials, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times reported on Friday.

If correct, the estimate – which CNN cannot independently confirm – would represent about 18% of China’s 1.4 billion people and represent the largest Covid-19 outbreak to date worldwide.

The figures cited were presented during an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on Wednesday, according to both outlets – who cited sources familiar with the matter or involved in the discussions. The NHC’s summary of Wednesday’s meeting said it delved deeper into treating patients affected by the new outbreak.

The numbers are in stark contrast to public data from the NHC, which reported just 62,592 symptomatic cases in the first 20 days of December. CNN has reached out to the NHC for comment.

In the face of growing skepticism that it is downplaying Covid deaths, the Chinese government recently defended the accuracy of its official count, revealing that it has updated its method of counting deaths caused by the virus.

According to the latest guidelines from the National Health Commission, only those whose death is caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting the virus are classified as Covid deaths, Wang Guiqiang, a leading infectious disease doctor, said at a press conference on Tuesday. -market.

Those deemed dead from another underlying illness or condition, such as a heart attack, will not count as a virus death, even if they were sick with Covid at the time, he said.

Officially, China has recorded just eight deaths from Covid this month through Dec. 22 — a surprisingly low number given the rapid spread of the virus and relatively low rates of vaccine boosters among vulnerable elderly people.

The official tally was met with disbelief and ridicule online, where posts mourning loved ones dying from Covid abound. Caixin, a Chinese financial magazine known for its investigative reporting, reported the deaths of two veteran state media journalists infected with Covid, on days when the official toll was zero.