(CNN) — Nearly 60,000 people have died of Covid-19 in China since the country abruptly abandoned its strict “zero Covid” policy in early December, a medical official with the National Health Commission (NHC) said at a conference on Saturday. press in Beijing.
Jiao Yahui, head of the NHC’s medical affairs department, said China recorded 59,938 Covid-19-related deaths between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12. Of those deaths, 5,503 were from respiratory failure caused by covid-19 infections, and 54,435 were people infected with covid and underlying diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
China has previously reported only covid patients who died with respiratory failure as covid deaths. In the month after Dec. 8, China reported just 37 deaths from local Covid cases, according to figures published on the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, even as the outbreak has overwhelmed hospitals. and crematoriums amid apparent covid surges in multiple cities.
The World Health Organization and the United States accused China of “underestimating” the severity of its current outbreak, while top global health officials also urged Beijing to share more data on the explosive spread of covid-19 in China, where reports of overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes surfaced.
On Saturday, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke with Chinese Health Minister Ma Xiaowei about the increase.
Chinese officials shared information, including the latest figures on outpatient clinics, hospitalizations, patients requiring emergency treatment and intensive care, and hospital deaths, the WHO said in a statement.
“WHO analyzes this information, which covers from the beginning of December 2022 to January 12, 2023, and allows a better understanding of the epidemiological situation and the impact of this wave in China,” he said.
The health organization also called for a more detailed breakdown of the data by province over time and called on the Chinese government to continue sharing more coronavirus sequences with open access databases.
Jiao, the NHC’s medical officer, noted that clinic visits for fever and hospitalizations for Covid-19 in China have already peaked.
According to the NHC, visits to fever clinics, both in cities and in rural areas, have fallen from the peak when more than 2.86 million people visited them on December 23, 2022.
On Jan. 12, 477,000 people visited fever clinics in China, Jiao said Saturday.
The NHC said hospitalizations of Covid-19 patients also peaked on January 5, 2023, when 1.63 million people were hospitalised, and 1.27 million Covid-19 patients were still in hospital. to January 12, Jiao added.
Despite the new figures, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said doubts about the China data were likely to remain.
“The strong revision is an official response to international criticism of China’s lack of transparency and accuracy in reporting Covid-related data,” Huang said.
“Given the still huge gap between the official covid-19 death count and the international estimate, I don’t think the revision will allay outside doubts about the government data.”
Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the review of China’s death toll “should be the first step towards a more timely, open and transparent sharing of Covid statistics (between) China and the world.
“In particular, the most important information includes the infection rate in the general population, the infection rate in the elderly, the admission and occupancy of hospitals and ICUs, the number of deaths directly attributed to covid-19 and the number of deaths due to worsening of underlying diseases”, explained the virologist.
“They should share the results of the variant analysis. In addition to the number of hospital deaths, the total number of covid-19 related deaths must also be provided. Both the Chinese affected by the tsunami and the rest of the world need to know more about the covid statistics in China.”
CNN’s Philip Wang and Kristie Lu Stout contributed to this report.