China’s Covid-19 data underrepresenting number of hospitalisations and deaths, says WHO

EU meets to discuss travel measures for country as Beijing rallies citizens for ‘final victory’ over virus

China’s Covid-19 data is not giving an accurate picture of the situation there and underrepresents the number of hospitalisations and deaths from the disease, a senior official at the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

The comment came as the UN agency prepares to meet Chinese scientists again on Thursday as part of a wider briefing among member states on the global Covid-19 situation.

“We believe that the current numbers being published from China underrepresent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, particularly in terms of death,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergencies director, told reporters.

He said the WHO believes the Chinese government’s definition for death is “too narrow”.


“We still do not have complete data,” said Mr Ryan.

Late last month, the world’s most populous country narrowed its definition for classifying deaths as Covid-related, counting only those involving Covid-caused pneumonia or respiratory failure, raising eyebrows among world health experts.

The country has reported five or fewer deaths a day since the policy U-turn, but 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 without urgent action.

Earlier in the briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated that the agency is “concerned” about the surge in Covid-19 infections in China and urged Beijing again to deliver rapid and regular data on hospitalisation and death there as well as real-time viral sequencing.

“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses to protect against hospitalisation, severe disease and death.”

With circulation in China so high and comprehensive data not forthcoming, he said it’s understandable that some countries are taking steps like testing travellers arriving from the country to protect their own citizens.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Chinese government’s newspaper rallied citizens for a “final victory” over the virus.

China’s axing of its stringent virus curbs last month has unleashed Covid on a 1.4 billion population that has little natural immunity having been shielded from the virus since it emerged in its Wuhan city three years ago.

“China and the Chinese people will surely win the final victory against the epidemic,” Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily said in an editorial, rebutting criticism of its tough antivirus regime that triggered historic protests late last year.

As it now dismantles those restrictions, China has been particularly critical of decisions by some countries to impose a requirement for a Covid test on its citizens, saying they are unreasonable and lack scientific basis.

Japan became the latest country to mandate pre-departure Covid testing for travellers from China, following similar measures by the United States, Britain, South Korea and others.

Health officials from the 27-member European Union are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss a co-ordinated response to China travel. Most EU countries favour pre-departure Covid testing for visitors from China.

China, which has been largely shut off from the world since the pandemic began in late 2019, will stop requiring inbound travellers to quarantine from January 8th. But it will still demand that arriving passengers get tested before they begin their journeys.

WHO officials met Chinese scientists on Tuesday amid concern over the accuracy of China’s data on the spread and evolution of its outbreak.

The United Nations agency had invited the scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing and to share data on hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations.

Last month, Reuters reported that the WHO had not received data from China on new Covid hospitalisations since Beijing’s policy shift, prompting some health experts to question whether it might be concealing the extent of its outbreak.

There were chaotic scenes at Shanghai’s Zhongshan hospital where patients, many of them elderly, jostled for space on Tuesday in packed halls between makeshift beds where people used oxygen ventilators and got intravenous drips.

With Covid disruptions slowing China’s economy to its lowest growth in nearly half a century, investors are now hoping policymakers will intervene to counter the slide.

China’s yuan hovered at a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday, after its finance minister pledged to step up fiscal expansion this year, days after the central bank said it would implement more policy support for the economy.

Despite some countries imposing restrictions on Chinese visitors, interest in outbound travel from the world’s most populous country is cranking up, state media reported.

Bookings for international flights from China have risen by 145 per cent year-on-year in recent days, the government-run China Daily newspaper reported, citing data from travel platform

The number of international flights to and from China is still a fraction of pre-Covid levels. The government has said it will increase flights and make it easier for people to travel abroad.

Thailand, a major destination for Chinese tourists, is expecting at least five million Chinese arrivals this year, its tourism authority said on Tuesday.

More than 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019, nearly a third of its total visitors.

But there are already signs that an increase in travel from China could pose problems abroad.

South Korea, which began testing travellers from China for Covid on Monday, said more than a fifth of the test results were positive.

Authorities there were hunting on Wednesday for one Chinese national who tested positive but went missing while awaiting quarantine. The person, who was not identified, could face up to a year in prison or fines of 10 million won (€7,423). – Reuters