January 29, 2023

Leaked notes from Chinese health officials estimate 250 million Covid-19 infections in December: reports

Hong Kong

Almost 250 million people China According to an internal estimate by the country’s top health officials, Covid-19 may have caught on in the first 20 days of December, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times reported on Friday.

If correct, the estimate — which CNN could not independently confirm — would represent roughly 18% of China’s 1.4 billion people and the largest Covid-19 outbreak worldwide to date.

The quoted figures were presented during an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on Wednesday, according to two outlets – which cited sources familiar with the matter or involved in the discussions. An NHC summary of Wednesday’s meeting said patients affected by the new outbreak had been treated.

On Friday, a copy of the NHC meeting notes was circulated on Chinese social media and seen by CNN; The authenticity of the document has not been verified and the NHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both the Financial Times and Bloomberg have detailed the authorities’ deliberations on how to handle the outbreak.

Estimates cited in both reports put 37 million new cases of Covid-19 across China on Tuesday alone. This was in contrast to the official figure of 3,049 new infections reported that day.

The Financial Times quoted two people familiar with the matter as saying Sun Yang – deputy director of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – who presented the figures to officials during a closed-door briefing.

According to the Financial Times, Sun explained that the rate of spread of Covid in China is still increasing and more than half of the population in Beijing and Sichuan are already infected.

The assessments follow China’s decision in early December to abruptly end its strict zero-covid policy that had been in place for nearly three years.

The figures are in stark contrast to public data from the NHC, which recorded just 62,592 symptomatic Covid cases in the first twenty days of December.

It’s not clear how the NHC came up with the estimates cited by Bloomberg and the Financial Times, as China no longer officially counts its total number of infections, and officials have said they will close their nationwide PCR checkpoints and stop collecting data. Asymptomatic cases.

People in China also now use rapid antigen tests to detect infections and are under no obligation to report positive results.

Officially, China has reported only eight Covid deaths this month — a low number given the rapid spread of the virus and relatively low vaccination booster rates among the elderly.

According to a CNN calculation of new statistics released by the NHC on December 14, only 42.3% of people aged 80 and over in China have received the third dose of the vaccine.

facing Suspicion grows The Chinese government defended the accuracy of its official figures by revealing that it had updated its method of calculating deaths from the virus, saying it underestimated Covid deaths.

According to the latest NHC guidelines, only deaths from pneumonia and respiratory complications after contracting the virus are classified as Covid deaths, Wang Guiqiang, a top infectious disease doctor, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Minutes of Wednesday’s closed-door NHC meeting did not mention any discussion of how many people may have died in China, according to two reports and a document seen by CNN.

“The numbers look plausible, but I don’t have any other data sources to compare with [them] with. If the estimated infection numbers reported here are accurate, it could mean a nationwide peak within the next week,” Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, told CNN in an emailed statement. .