China records 60,000 COVID-related deaths, and says peak has passed

China on Saturday recorded nearly 60,000 deaths in people who contracted COVID-19 since early December, providing hard numbers for an unprecedented rise that was evident in overwhelmed hospitals. packed crematoriums, Even as the government released little data on the state of the epidemic for weeks.

Those numbers may still understate the extent of losses, though the government said the “emergency peak” in its latest surge appeared to be over.

The National Health Commission announced that the toll included 5,503 deaths from respiratory failure caused by COVID-19 and 54,435 deaths from other COVID-19-related diseases since December 8. She said these “coronavirus-related deaths” occurred in hospitals, meaning anyone who died at home would not be included in the numbers.

The report would double China’s official COVID-19 death toll to 10,775 since the disease was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. China has only counted deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID-19 death toll. . A narrow definition that excludes many deaths that can be attributed to COVID-19 in most parts of the world.

China stopped reporting data on deaths and infections from COVID-19 after it abruptly lifted antiviral controls in early December, despite a surge in infections that began in October and filled hospitals with patients with fevers and wheezing. Hospitals in Beijing across the country are overwhelmed with patients, and funeral homes and crematoriums are struggling to cope with the dead.

World Health Organization Other governments pleaded for information after reports from city and county governments suggested that as many as hundreds of millions of people in China may have contracted the virus.

Jiao Yahui, an official with the National Health Commission, said infection numbers are now declining because fewer patients are visiting fever clinics.

The daily number of people going to those clinics peaked at 2.9 million on Dec. 23 and fell 83% to 477,000 on Thursday, according to Jiao.

“This data shows that the national emergency peak has passed,” Jiao said at a press conference.

It’s difficult to assess whether China has truly passed the peak of COVID-19, said Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer at the University of Oklahoma and chief of quality control at the university hospital.

“It’s hard to tell,” Bratzler said. “China has quarantined people inside, there are many unvaccinated people, and people are at risk.”

The number of COVID-19 deaths China is reporting may be an “overestimate” because of how it defines it, said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease physician and professor of public health at the Yale School of Public Health.

“They use a very narrow case definition of (COVID) deaths,” Ko said. “They have to have respiratory failure… In order to be counted as a case, you have to be in a place where they can say you met all the requirements, and that’s in a hospital.”

Kuo said that hospitals in China are mostly located in large cities where COVID outbreaks have been reported, rather than in isolated rural areas.

“This is the Lunar New Year, people travel and go to the countryside where the population is at risk,” Ko said. “We’re really concerned about what will happen in China as this disease moves into the countryside.”

For nearly three years, China has kept its infection and death rate well below those of the United States and some other countries at the height of the epidemic through a “zero COVID” strategy. which aims to isolate each case. This shut down access to some cities, kept millions of people at home, and sparked angry protests.

Those rules were abruptly relaxed in early December after some of the biggest public demonstrations of opposition against the ruling Communist Party in more than 30 years. This has created new problems in a country that relies on locally developed vaccines that are less reliable than others in use globally, and where the elderly — those most likely to die from the virus — are less likely to be vaccinated. from the general population.

The health commission said the average age of people who have died since Dec. 8 is 80.3 years, and 90.1% were 65 or older. It said more than 90% of the deceased had cancer, heart or lung disease, or kidney problems.

“The number of elderly patients dying of the disease is relatively large, which indicates that we should pay more attention to elderly patients and try our best to save their lives,” Jiao said.

The United States, South Korea, Japan and several other countries have imposed virus tests and other controls on people coming from China. Beijing responded on Wednesday Suspending the issuance of new visas to travelers from South Korea and Japan.

This month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said agency officials met with Chinese officials to stress the importance of sharing more details. About COVID-19 issues, including hospitalization rates and genetic sequencing.


Associated Press writer Ken Miller contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.

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