KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 – The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) from University of Washington has predicted about 323,000 cumulative deaths from Covid-19 in China by April 1, 2023.
Daily reported Covid-19 deaths in China were projected to rise to 5,060 by April 1 next year.
Both projections were made by IHME in a scenario where vaccines are distributed at the expected pace; future mask use will decline to 50 per cent of the minimum level reached between January 1, 2021 and May 1, 2022; and social distancing mandates will be reimposed when a certain death rate is reached.
The IHME also estimated 2.9 million daily estimated Covid-19 infections in China by mid March next year.
In a scenario without social distancing mandates, IHME predicted 502,000 total Covid deaths in China by April 1 and daily reported fatalities from the coronavirus to rise to 8,860 by March 29.
“With 80 per cent of China susceptible, the death toll could arguably reach well over 1 million during 2023,” IHME said in a December 15 briefing document on its China model that was run the same day.
“There is the perception in some circles in China that Omicron is mild and that the epidemic that will unfold as the zero-Covid strategy has been relaxed will not have a high death toll. The experience in Hong Kong, however, where 10,000 died in the first months of the Omicron wave, would suggest otherwise.
“Hong Kong is a good indicator of what is likely to unfold in China, with similar levels of vaccination with a comparatively poor vaccine and low levels of vaccination in the over-80 population, who are at the highest risk of death. Over 2022, the infection-fatality rate in Hong Kong was over 0.1 per cent overall.”
The IHME noted that China has not switched to the more effective messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, or produced or acquired the Paxlovid antiviral medication to manage the disease in vulnerable populations.
“As the epidemic begins to take off in mid-January, according to our models, local governments will have to take measures to support hospitals as the number of individuals affected will be extraordinary,” said the US research centre.
“Use of social distancing mandates including mask mandates, gathering restrictions, and business restrictions can slow transmission and spread the burden on hospitals over the rest of the year. These restrictions, however, may not substantially change the outcome by the end of 2023 without improvements in vaccination or the use of effective antivirals.”
Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of a World Health Organization (WHO) committee tasked with advising on the status of the Covid emergency, told Reuters that it might be too early to declare the global end of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency because of a potentially huge wave of infections in China.
“It’s clear that we are in a very different phase [of the pandemic], but in my mind, that pending wave in China is a wild card.”
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reportedly said last Wednesday that the United Nations body hopes to be able to declare sometime next year an end to the Covid-19 global health emergency.
“At this time a year ago, Covid-19 was killing 50,000 people a week. Last week, less than 10,000 people lost their lives,” Tedros was quoted as saying by Health Policy Watch.
“There is still a lot that all countries can do to save lives. But we have come a long way. We are hopeful that at some point next year we will be happy to say that Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency.”
The United States has expressed concern about the possibility of new variants popping up from the Covid-19 outbreak in China that is reportedly seeing a surge in demand at funeral homes and crematoriums in the state capital of Beijing. CNN reported a surge in infections in other major cities as well, such as Shanghai and Guangzhou.
“When it comes to the current outbreak in China, we want to see this addressed,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing last Monday, as quoted by Bloomberg.
“We know that anytime the virus is spreading in the wild that it has the potential to mutate and to pose a threat to people everywhere.”
American epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted that hospitals in China have been completely overwhelmed after the Chinese government abandoned its strict “zero Covid” strategy some two weeks ago.
“I’m going to pause for a moment—am I saying this will be the start of another ‘Thermonuclear bad’ #COVID wave worldwide? Not necessarily via virus directly— but the global economic fallout from China’s new mega tsunami wave will be ugly,” he said Monday.
The New York Times reported medicine shortages in China, from cold, flu and fever medication like ibuprofen to Paxlovid. Dr Ding tweeted a video of people rushing to a pharmaceutical factory to buy ibuprofen in Zhuhai city in the Guangdong province.