China stops publishing Covid figures amid massive surge

Workers in protective suits stand at an entrance to a university's residential area under lockdown following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Xian, Shaanxi province, China December 20, 2021. Picture taken December 20, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. - RC28IR9DTSQW

China’s National Health Commission, which used to issue the country’s Covid-19 case figures on a daily basis, starting Sunday stopped publishing the update, according to The Global Times. 

“China’s National Health Commission (NHC) will stop publishing daily Covid-19 case data from Sunday. Instead, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention will release Covid-related info for study and reference,” NHC said in a statement. On the website, the National Health Commission on Saturday gave the Covid case figures of Friday. China mainland reported 4,128 new cases of confirmed infections and no new death in the country. 

On 23 December, 1,760 patients were released from the hospital after being cured and 28,865 people who had had close contact with infected patients were freed from medical observation. The number of serious cases increased by 99. 

The move comes in the backdrop of a Radio Free Asia report that nearly 250 million people in China may have been affected by Covid-19 in just 20 days after the ‘zero-covid policy’ was diluted in the first week of the month. 

According to the leaked government documents that are circulating on social media, 248 million people were infected with Covid-19 from December 1 to 20, or 17.65 per cent of China’s population. 

The data on covid cases released by government officials on 20 December is different from the reality as nearly 37 million were estimated, according to Radio Free Asia
A senior Chinese journalist told Radio Free Asia on Thursday that the document was genuine, and had been leaked by someone who attended the meeting who was acting deliberately and in the public interests. 

Meanwhile, British-based health data firm Airfinity, said that the infections in China are likely to be more than one million a day with deaths at more than 5,000 a day.  New modelling by Airfinity has examined data from China’s regional provinces. The current outbreak is growing more rapidly in some regions than in others. Cases are currently rising much more quickly in Beijing and Guangdong. 

“Using the trends in regional data our team of epidemiologists has forecast the first peak to be in regions where cases are currently rising and a second peak driven by later surges in other Chinese provinces,” Airfinity said in a statement. 

The Airfinity model estimates case rates could reach 3.7 million a day in a January peak and 4.2 million a day in March 2023. Airfinity’s Head of Vaccines and Epidemiology Dr Louise Blair said, “China has stopped mass testing and is no longer reporting asymptomatic cases. The combination means the official data is unlikely to be a true reflection of the outbreak being experienced across the country. 

“China has also changed the way it records Covid-19 deaths to only include those who die from respiratory failure or pneumonia after testing positive. This is different to other countries that record deaths within a time frame of a positive test or where Covid-19 is recorded to have attributed to the cause of death. This change could downplay the extent of deaths seen in China.” 

The surge in coronavirus cases in China is severely straining hospitals in Beijing and other major Chinese cities, reported NHK World. Millions of people in China have been affected by Covid-19 since the ‘zero-covid policy’ was diluted on 7 December. The health authorities in Qingdao in Shandong Province estimated on Friday that 490,000 to 530,000 people per day have contracted the virus. Even the manufacturing hub of China, Dongguan in Guangdong Province on Friday reported 250,000 to 300,000 cases. 

The cases pose an unprecedented challenge for medical workers. A Beijing hospital official says about 500 patients daily are received at its emergency unit. That’s 2.5 times the usual. About 20 per cent of them have developed serious symptoms. 

Looking at the number of Covid cases, other hospitals in Beijing are setting up makeshift intensive care units and increasing the number of beds for patients with serious symptoms, reported NHK World.