China COVID data shows no new variant but under-reports deaths, WHO says

  • The virus is spreading rapidly in China after politics
  • Faster access to information by UN agencies and others
  • The latest data from China’s CDC shows the dominance of Omicron
  • More and more countries are looking for pre-boarding tests from Chinese immigrants
  • EU officials meet to coordinate China’s travel policy

BEIJING, Jan 4 (Reuters) – Data from China show no new variant of the coronavirus has been found there, but it shows how many people have died from the country’s fast-spreading epidemic, World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday.

Global concern has grown over the accuracy of China’s reporting of the outbreak, which has overwhelmed hospitals and overwhelmed some funeral homes, after Beijing dramatically reversed its “zero COVID” policy.

The UN agency released the data, provided by China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a day after WHO officials met with Chinese scientists. China has been reporting single digit COVID deaths every day.

Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s director of emergencies, told a media briefing that the current figures released from China were low for hospital admissions, ICU admissions and “specifically deaths”.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency continues to seek faster and more regular data from China on hospitalizations and deaths.

“WHO is concerned about the threat to human life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including additional doses to protect against hospitalization, severe illness and death,” he said.

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China’s People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party, has criticized strict isolation policies that sparked rare protests last year as it sought to rally concerned citizens for what it called a “final victory” against COVID-19.

Beijing’s dramatic lifting of strict restrictions last month has allowed the virus to spread to China’s 1.4 billion people, who have little immunity after being protected after it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan three years ago.

Health officials abroad are struggling to work out the scale of the outbreak and how to stop its spread, with many countries introducing pre-departure COVID tests for those arriving from China, moves criticized by Beijing.

European Union health officials will meet on Wednesday to discuss an agreed response.


Analysis by the China CDC showed that Omicron genera BA.5.2 and BF.7 predominated among local infections, according to WHO data.

Omicron is the dominant variant based on recent genome sequencing, which confirms what the scientists said, but eliminates concerns about the emergence of a new variant.

Still, many Chinese funeral homes and hospitals say they are overwhelmed, and international health experts predict at least 1 million COVID-related deaths in China this year.

China has reported five or fewer deaths per day since the policy reversal.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Zhang, a 66-year-old Beijing resident who gave only his last name, said of the official payment.

“Four of my close relatives died. This is from one family. I hope the government will be honest with the people and the whole world about what really happened here.”

China’s cabinet on Wednesday stepped up drug distribution to meet demand from medical facilities, nursing homes and rural areas, state media said.

Beijing has hit back at some countries by requiring visitors from China to show COVID tests before departure, saying the rules are unreasonable and have no scientific basis.

Japan, the USA, Australia and a number of European countries are among the countries that require such tests.

Willie Walsh, the head of the world’s biggest airlines association, criticized the “knee-jerk” measures, which he said had failed to stem the spread of the virus, which has already hit airlines recovering from the pandemic.

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China will stop quarantining incoming travelers from January 8, but they will have to be screened before they arrive.

China reported five new COVID deaths on Tuesday, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, very low by global standards.

Airfinity, a UK-based health information firm, has estimated that around 9,000 people are dying from COVID every day in China.

Patients at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital, many of them elderly, were crammed into halls on Tuesday between makeshift beds and people on oxygen ventilators and IVs.

A Reuters witness counted seven cars in the parking lot of Shanghai’s Tongji Hospital on Wednesday. Workers were seen carrying at least 18 yellow bags used to move the bodies.

China’s $17 trillion economy grew at its slowest pace in half a century amid the COVID-19 disruption.

But the yuan hit a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday after Finance Minister Liu Kun pledged to step up fiscal expansion. The Central Bank also provides support.

Reporting by Alessandro Divigiano, Bernard Orr and Liz Lee in Beijing; Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Hyunhee Shin in Seoul and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Written by Marius Zacharias and Edmund Blair; Edited by Robert Birsel, William McLean, and John Stonestreet

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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