- Nearly 60,000 COVID-related hospital deaths have been reported
- China has been criticized for underreporting COVID deaths
- The official says emergency hospitalizations have peaked
- Travel recovering before the Lunar New Year holidays
BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Saturday that nearly 60,000 people with COVID-19 had died in hospital since it abandoned its COVID-19 non-spread policy last month, in a huge increase from previously reported figures that comes in the wake of criticism. Global data for the country’s coronavirus. .
In early December, Beijing abruptly dismantled its strict anti-virus regime of three years of frequent testing, travel restrictions and mass lockdowns after widespread protests in late November, and cases have since surged across the country of 1.4 billion people.
On Saturday, a health official said that Covid fever and emergency hospitalizations have peaked and that the number of patients in hospitals continues to decline.
Between December 8 and January 12, the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Chinese hospitals reached 59,938, Jiao Yahui, head of the Medical Administration Office of the National Health Commission, said at a briefing.
Of those deaths, she said, 5,503 were caused by respiratory failure due to COVID and the rest were caused by a combination of COVID and other diseases.
While international health experts predicted at least 1 million COVID-related deaths this year, China previously reported more than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began, one of the lowest death rates in the world.
Authorities had reported five or fewer deaths per day for the past month — figures inconsistent with long lines seen at funeral homes and body bags seen leaving crowded hospitals.
The World Health Organization said this week that China is significantly underreporting deaths from COVID, though it is now providing more information about the outbreak.
The UN agency did not immediately comment on Saturday.
China, which reported daily COVID death figures on Monday, has repeatedly defended the veracity of its data on the disease.
On Saturday, Jiao said that China is dividing COVID-related deaths between deaths from respiratory failure due to coronavirus infection and those from underlying disease associated with coronavirus infection.
“The standard is basically in line with those adopted by the World Health Organization and other major countries,” she said.
Last month, a Chinese health expert said at a government press conference that only deaths from pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting COVID would be classified as COVID deaths. Heart attacks or cardiovascular diseases that cause death in affected persons will not receive this classification.
Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the tenfold increase in deaths reported on Saturday suggests that China’s coronavirus policy reversal is “already associated” with a sharp rise in severe cases and deaths, especially among the elderly. .
However, he said it’s unclear whether the new data accurately reflects actual deaths because doctors are discouraged from reporting COVID-related deaths and the numbers only include hospital deaths.
“In the countryside, for example, many elderly people died at home but were not tested for COVID because testing kits were not available or they did not want to be tested,” he said.
The number of patients who need emergency treatment is decreasing and the proportion of patients in fever clinics who test positive for COVID-19 is also steadily decreasing, said Jiao, a Chinese health official. She added that the number of severe cases peaked, although it remained at a high level, and most of the patients are elderly.
Officials said China will step up supplies of medicine and medical equipment in rural areas and step up training of frontline medical staff in those areas.
“The number of visitors to the fever clinic is generally on a downward trend, after peaking in both cities and rural areas,” Jiao said.
A sharp rise in travel ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions return home from cities to small towns and rural areas, has raised concern that this could lead to a surge in cases during the celebration that begins on January 21.
This week, the World Health Organization warned of the risks posed by holiday travel. China reopened its borders on January 8.
Despite concerns about infections, air passenger volumes in China have recovered to 63% of 2019 levels since the annual travel season began on January 7, the industry regulator said on Friday.
The Ministry of Transport expected passenger traffic to jump 99.5% year-on-year during the festival migration, which runs through February 15, or recover to 70.3% from 2019 levels.
The 46,000 inbound passengers on Friday were the highest number since the pandemic began, the Macau city government said, most of them from the mainland, at the Chinese gambling hub of Macau. It expects tourism to boom in the Spring Festival.
($1 = 6.7010 CNY)
Additional reporting from the Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Helen Popper, and Frances Kerry
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