The World Health Organization (WHO) urged Beijing to share more information about the virus, after China released data about almost 60,000 Covid-related deaths in one month. According to a statement issued on Saturday, WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with China’s health minister Ma Xiaowei about the pandemic situation in the country. “Chinese officials provided information to WHO and in a press conference on a range of topics, including outpatient clinics, hospitalizations, patients requiring emergency treatment and critical care, and hospital deaths related to Covid-19 infection,” the statement said.
“WHO is analysing this information (the Covid-related deaths), which covers early December 2022 to 12 January 2023, and allows for a better understanding of the epidemiological situation and the impact of this wave in China,” the statement added.
The WHO requested Beijing that such type of information continued to be shared with it and the public. The United Nations health agency said it will continue to work with China providing technical advice and support, and engaging on analysing the situation.” On the call (with China’s NHC director Ma Xiaowei), Tedros also reiterated the importance of China’s deeper cooperation and transparency on understanding the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in carrying out the recommendations detailed in the report of the Strategic Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens,” Saturday’s statement added.
On Saturday, an official from China’s National Health Commission said that 59,938 patients died due to Covid between December 8, 2022, and January 12 this year, the first major toll released after the government scrapped the zero-Covid policy. Before Saturday’s announcement, only a few dozen virus-related deaths were reported by authorities, despite crematoriums and hospitals across China being full to the brim. The Chinese government has faced global backlash for underreporting deaths due to the virus.
A report by news agency AFP on Saturday said that this figure referred to deaths only recorded at medical facilities and the total toll is likely to be higher. Jiao Yahui, head of the bureau of medical administration under the NHC told reporters that these 59,938 deaths included 5,503 deaths caused by respiratory failure directly due to Covid and 54,435 deaths caused by underlying diseases combined with the virus. Of the patients who died, 90.1% were aged 65 and older.
In December last year, China narrowed the definition of Covid deaths by saying only those patients who directly died of respiratory failure caused by the virus would be counted under Covid death statistics. The WHO criticised the criteria and said the definition was too narrow.