SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 5 February 2023, Sunday |

China reports first COVID deaths in weeks as official count questioned

After the government relaxed rigorous anti-virus controls, China recorded its first COVID-related deaths in weeks on Monday. However, there are growing concerns that the official total may not fully reflect the severity of the sickness that is ravaging urban areas.

The two fatalities on Monday were the first confirmed by the National Health Commission (NHC) since December 3, just days before Beijing declared it was removing restrictions that had mostly kept the virus in control for three years but had sparked large-scale demonstrations last month.

A COVID-19 crematorium in Beijing was lined up with hearses on Saturday, and Reuters journalists saw workers transporting the deceased into the facility while wearing hazmat suits. Reuters was unable to immediately determine whether the deaths were caused by COVID.

On China’s Weibo site, which is akin to Twitter, a hashtag about the two alleged COVID deaths rose to the top trending topic on Monday.

One user questioned, “What is the point of incomplete statistics? Another person commented, “Isn’t this defrauding the public?”

The NHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The low number of deaths since curbs were lifted on Dec. 7 is inconsistent with the experience of other countries after similar moves. Officially China has suffered just 5,237 COVID-related deaths during the pandemic, including the latest two fatalities, a tiny fraction of its 1.4 billion population.

But health experts have said China may pay a price for taking such stringent measures to shield a population that now lacks natural immunity to COVID-19 and has low vaccination rates among the elderly.

Some fear China’s COVID death toll could rise above 1.5 million in coming months.

Respected Chinese news outlet Caixin on Friday reported that two state media journalists had died after contracting COVID, and then on Saturday that a 23-year-old medical student had also died. It was not immediately clear which, if any, of these deaths were included in official death tolls.

“The (official) number is clearly an undercount of COVID deaths,” said Yanzhong Huang, a global health specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank.

That “may reflect the lack of state ability to effectively track and monitor the disease situation on the ground after the collapse of the mass PCR testing regime, but it may also be driven by efforts to avoid mass panic over the surge of COVID deaths,” he said.

The NHC reported 1,995 symptomatic infections for Dec. 18, compared with 2,097 a day earlier.

Some fear China’s COVID death toll could rise above 1.5 million in coming months.

Respected Chinese news outlet Caixin on Friday reported that two state media journalists had died after contracting COVID, and then on Saturday that a 23-year-old medical student had also died. It was not immediately clear which, if any, of these deaths were included in official death tolls.

Yanzhong Huang, a global health expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in the United States, stated that “the (official) number is obviously an undercount of COVID mortality.”

According to him, this “may reflect the state’s inability to properly track and monitor the disease condition on the ground after the breakdown of the mass PCR testing regime, but it may also be driven by efforts to avert mass panic over the spike in COVID deaths.”

As opposed to the 2,097 symptomatic illnesses reported the day before by the NHC, there were 1,995 on December 18.

    Source:
  • Reuters