The Chinese government defended the accuracy of its official number by disclosing it has revised its system of calculating fatalities brought on by the virus, according to CNN, in response to mounting suspicions that it is downplaying Covid deaths.
Only those who die from pneumonia and respiratory failure after catching the virus are categorised as Covid fatalities, according to the most recent National Health Commission rules, according to Wang Guiqiang, a renowned infectious disease specialist. He stated that even if they were suffering from Covid at the time, people who are determined to have passed away as a result of another illness or underlying condition, such as a heart attack, will not be classified as viral deaths, according to CNN.
Commenting on China’s criteria for counting Covid deaths on Wednesday, the World Health Organization’s emergency chief Michael Ryan said the definition was ‘quite narrow’.
“People who die of Covid die from many different (organ) systems’ failures, given the severity of infection,” Ryan said, adding, “So limiting a diagnosis of death from Covid to someone with a Covid positive test and respiratory failure will very much underestimate the true death toll associated with Covid.”
According to Wang, the Chinese doctor, the change in the definition was necessitated by the mild nature of Omicron, which is different from the Wuhan strain at the start of the pandemic, when most patients died from pneumonia and respiratory failure.
But Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, pointed out that this is more or less the same strict criteria Chinese authorities have used to tally Covid deaths all along, reported CNN.
In order to explain the severe restrictions, the term was only marginally expanded in April of this year to include certain Covid patients who passed away as a result of underlying illnesses while Shanghai was under lockdown, according to Jin.
Shanghai’s outbreak, which lasted from March to May, resulted in 600,000 illnesses and 588 Covid fatalities, according to municipal officials. However, even though there were hundreds of thousands of illnesses, the national death toll remained zero for the following six months after the city’s lockdown was removed.
Beijing made the announcement that three elderly people had passed away from underlying diseases related to Covid in late November, just as the city tightened its own Covid regulations in the face of an expanding outbreak.
Jin claims that these discrepancies demonstrate how “entirely subjective” China’s technique of calculating Covid fatalities is.
“The death data has been misleading from the start,” he said.
Counting deaths from Covid versus deaths with Covid has been a topic of debate worldwide since the start of the pandemic, said Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.
Most countries, including the United States, decided it’s too difficult to evaluate every single death to know whether Covid was a factor and counted deaths with Covid in their official death tolls, Cowling said.
But he pointed out the debate over how to count Covid deaths would be overshadowed by a bigger issue in China — namely, there is very little PCR testing after the government rolled back mass testing, reported CNN.
“We know there are many, many Covid deaths already occurring. And those are not being counted with the Chinese method or with the American method, because the testing is not being done,” he said.
“The substantial reduction in testing would have a greater effect on the death statistics that we’re going to see in the coming one to two months.” he added.
As an unprecedented wave of infections rips through China, its state media is deliberately ignoring scenes of crowded hospital wards and packed crematoriums unfolding at home, while officials insist that by the government’s own count, few people are dying of Covid, reported CNN.
For nearly three years, China’s hardline zero-Covid policy shielded its population from the kind of mass deaths that haunted Western nations — a contrast repeatedly driven home by the Communist Party to illustrate the supposed superiority of its rule.
But as China abruptly abandoned that strategy, with little warning or apparent preparation, the prospect of surging deaths — projected by some studies to be as high as one million — has become a thorny issue for a government that staked its legitimacy on ‘saving lives’, reported CNN.
Only eight Covid fatalities were officially reported in China this month, a pitiful number given the virus’ quick spread and the senior population’s poor booster vaccination rates.
The official tally has drawn scorn and mockery online, where there are several messages lamenting loved ones who have passed away from Covid.
On days when the official toll was zero, Caixin, a Chinese financial magazine renowned for its investigative investigations, published a report on the Covid-infected deaths of two seasoned state media journalists.