Nearly 60,000 people with COVID have died in China since early December, Beijing’s health authorities said on Saturday, in what the World Health Organization called a “rapid and intense wave” of infection in the country.
Previously, authorities had been recording low numbers of deaths since draconian zero-COVID restrictions were lifted last month. But international health experts had cast serious doubts on official figures amid reports of long queues at crematoriums and estimates of infection rates of between 80 percent and 90 percent in some parts of the country.
Between December 8 and January 12, there were 59,938 COVID-related deaths in Chinese hospitals, Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration within the National Health Commission, said at a media briefing on Saturday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the latest release of data and called for continued sharing of information by Beijing. Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus spoke with the director of China’s National Health Commission, Ma Xiaowei, on Saturday.
“The overall epidemiology — reflecting a rapid and intense wave of disease caused by known sub-variants of Omicron with higher clinical impact on older people and those with underlying conditions — is similar to waves of infection experienced by other countries, as is the increased pressure on health services,” the WHO said in a statement.
Those who died with COVID since the start of December had an average age of 80, and 90 percent were aged 65 or older, Chinese authorities said. The vast majority of the deaths resulted from a combination of COVID and other diseases, authorities added.
China has been criticized for a lack of transparency about the scale of the outbreak. Last month Beijing changed the way it defined COVID deaths, only counting those who died from respiratory failure directly caused by the virus — a definition the WHO said was too narrow.