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‘Nearly 2 Million Extra Deaths’ After China Ended Covid Curbs

A new study by a US medical research centre suggests 1.9 million people died after China suddenly dropped its Covid-19 restrictions late last year. Beijing has never revealed the full death toll.

A new study suggested 1.9 million people died after China suddenly scrapped its zero-Covid policy last December.
Hospitals in Beijing and many other cities were hit by a flood of Covid cases last December, with hundreds of citizens needing help and many staff infected. Crematoria and funeral parlors were reported to have been swamped. This image shows medics in protective gear delivering a patient to a fever clinic in Beijing. Reuters photo.


China’s decision to suddenly scrap its tough ‘Zero-Covid’ restrictions last December could have caused nearly 2 million excess deaths, according to a new US study.

The study, by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, was based on a sample of mortality data published by some universities in China and internet searches.

It found an estimated 1.87 million excess deaths from all causes occurred among people over 30 years of age between December 2022 and January 2023, in all provinces on the mainland except Tibet.

The findings challenge official figures from Beijing, which have been criticized for being too low and lacking credibility.


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China’s decision in December last year to rapidly dismantle its three-year zero-Covid policy, which included mass-testing and stringent and persistent quarantine lockdowns, unleashed the virus onto its 1.4 billion residents.

That led to a massive surge in hospitalisations, described by some as a ‘Covid tidal wave’, and so many deaths that crematoria in many cities were swamped for weeks on end.

Lack of credible public disclosure about the number of deaths led to questions by the World Health Organization, which said China was heavily under-reporting its Covid deaths.

Health experts said the scale of suffering was largely ignored by the government, perhaps because it was seen as having made limited preparation and not purchased more effective foreign vaccines before suddenly dumping its much criticized curbs.

The study, published on Thursday in JAMA Network Open, said the number of excess deaths far exceeded official Chinese government estimates in January that 60,000 people with Covid-19 had died in hospital since the zero-Covid policy was abandoned a month earlier.


Analysis based on obits, search data on Baidu

In the study, researchers performed statistical analysis using information from published obituaries and data from searches on Baidu, a popular Chinese internet search engine.

“Our study of excess deaths related to the lifting of the zero-Covid policy in China sets an empirically derived benchmark estimate. These findings are important for understanding how the sudden propagation of Covid-19 across a population may impact population mortality,” researchers wrote.

China’s National Health Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Global health experts repeatedly called on China to reveal more data as reports of rising hospitalisations and deaths started to surface, and especially as the threat of new variants became a concern.

China stopped reporting official daily death results at the end of 2022. The World Health Organization says there have been 121,628 Covid deaths in China, out of a total global toll of almost 7 million.

In a rare move, one Chinese province, Zheijiang, briefly published data on its website in July showing cremations jumped 70% in the first quarter of this year that was later taken down.

In February, China’s top leaders declared a “decisive victory” over Covid.


Still No-1 infectious disease in Beijing

But the virus is still making its rounds in the country and on Thursday, Beijing health officials said Covid is still the number one infectious disease in the capital, according to Chinese state media.

Officials cited a new Omicron variant, called EG.5 or “Eris” nicknamed after the Greek Goddess of strife and discord, as the current dominant strain across China.

“The National Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention said the proportion of the new variant EG.5 increased from 0.6% in April to 71.6% in August, becoming the dominant strain in most provinces in China,” the Global Times reported.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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