China is planning to calculate, then release, excess mortality data as a record wave of infections engulfs the country and doubts grow about the accuracy of its official covid figures.
A team at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is preparing to assess the measure of deaths, according to chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou. Excess mortality, which gauges the difference between the number of deaths caused during the current covid wave and the number of fatalities expected had the pandemic not occurred, has been used around the world as it's meant to provide a more comprehensive snapshot of covid's impact.
"The deaths caused by covid is a worldwide concern," Wu said at a briefing in Beijing on Thursday. "By calculating excess mortality, we can figure out what could have potentially been underestimated."
The CDC team has previously done a similar excess mortality analysis for the initial outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where covid first emerged. The National Health Commission added nearly 1,300 deaths from the city into its covid death count in April 2020.
China has been lambasted for its initial handling of the outbreak, including the lack of transparency of reporting on its scale. It's once again facing criticism for underreporting both its case numbers and covid fatalities after this month'sabrupt U-turn on zero covid unleashed the virus across the vast country of 1.4 billion people.
The official tally for covid infections has become all but meaningless as the once-ubiquitous network of PCR testing booths shut. And the recent adoption of a narrower definition of a covid fatality -- only those who die from respiratory failure caused by the virus are counted -- means the small number of deaths being reported contrasts with scenes of chaos across the nation's hospitals and crematoriums.
China says it has thousands of new cases a day. But the government's top health authority has estimated that there were nearly 37 million infections in a single day last week, eclipsing the record global total of about 4 million in a single day earlier this year. Airfinity, a London-based research firm that focuses on predictive health analytics, estimated earlier this month that the country could see more than 5,000 deaths a day.
With scenes of overwhelmed hospitals playing out across the country, officials on Thursday said some regions are now grappling with a surge in severe covid patients.
The occupancy rate of intensive care unit beds for the whole country hasn't crossed the red line of 80%, but some parts of the nation are bracing for a peak in severe cases, said Jiao Yahui, an official overseeing hospitals at the National Health Commission. That includes China's capital, Beijing, the surrounding province of Hebei, the eastern manufacturing hub of Zhejiang, and the southwestern province Sichuan, which are seeing ICU bed occupancy rates nearing or exceeding 80%, Jiao said.