Doctors in China express doubts about the official corona death toll

After Beijing gave up the strict zero-Covid policy, the corona numbers are increasing rapidly. How many people die may be covered up.

Speculations about embellished corona death numbers in China are given new impetus according to reports from doctors. Doctors told Reuters that they had been asked not to write respiratory failure after Covid disease on the death certificate as the cause of death. If the deceased had an underlying medical condition, that should be listed as the leading cause of death, according to a directive from a private hospital’s emergency department seen by Reuters.

Six doctors in public hospitals across China confirmed they had either received similar verbal instructions that kept them from attributing deaths to Covid. Or they are aware that their hospitals have such guidelines. “Since it reopened in December, we have stopped classifying Covid deaths,” said a doctor at a major public hospital in Shanghai. “It’s pointless to do that because almost everyone is positive.”

Several medics said they had been told such orders came from “the government,” though no one knew from which department. Three other medics at public hospitals in different cities said they were not aware of such guidelines.

Death figures given too low

Seven relatives of the recently deceased told Reuters there was no mention of Covid on the death certificate, even though the relatives either tested positive or showed symptoms similar to Covid. Social media is full of similar reports. China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Health Commission (NHC) could not immediately be reached for comment.

After the government gave up its strict zero-Covid policy at the beginning of December, the virus is spreading rapidly in the People’s Republic. However, the authorities have reported a maximum of five deaths per day in recent weeks – a stark contrast to the images of long lines in front of funeral homes and numerous body bags coming from overcrowded hospitals.

Last week, the National Health Commission revised its figures significantly upwards. According to this, there were almost 60,000 deaths between December 8th and January 12th. However, international experts estimate that there could be more than a million corona deaths this year.

Only deaths in hospitals

Michael Baker, a public health researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said the updated death toll was still low compared to China’s high level of infection. “Most countries are finding that most deaths from Covid are caused directly by the infection and not by a combination of Covid and other diseases,” he said.



Yanzhong Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York said it was unclear whether the new data accurately reflected actual deaths, partly because the figures only included hospital deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended Monday that China monitor excess mortality to get a fuller picture of the impact of the Covid surge.

For the first time since the Great Famine of 1961, China’s population shrank last year. The National Bureau of Statistics put the number at 1.41 billion at the end of 2022, about 850,000 fewer than the year before. A historically low birth rate of just under 6.8 per 1,000 inhabitants contributed to this development. At the same time, the death rate rose to 7.4 per 1,000 inhabitants, the highest since the Cultural Revolution in 1974.


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