China’s Data “Under-Represents” Covid Surge, Deaths: WHO

WHO’s analysis of Chinese data finds no new variants of concern emerging but warns it could be due to a decrease in testing.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 – The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised China for under-representing the severity of its Covid-19 outbreak and the real number of deaths.

WHO emergencies director Dr Michael Ryan said China’s figures “under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths”.

Beijing’s definition of Covid-19 death, which was changed last month, as “too narrow”, as only those who die of respiratory illnesses are counted, Dr Ryan told a media briefing in Geneva on Wednesday, according to The Guardian.

This goes against WHO guidance which encourages countries to count the number of excess deaths – how many more people died in the crisis compared to those expected under normal conditions. China has been reporting daily Covid deaths in single figures.

Following China’s decision to roll back its stringent “zero-Covid” policy almost a month ago, there have been reports of hospitals and crematoriums being overwhelmed.

International health experts predict at least one million Covid-related deaths in China this year without urgent action. The United Kingdom science data company Airfinity estimates more than two million Covid cases a day in China, and 14,700 daily deaths.

Dr Ryan said China had increased its engagement with the WHO in recent weeks, and said he looked forward to receiving more comprehensive data. But he also suggested individual health workers could report their own data and experiences.

“We do not discourage doctors and nurses reporting these deaths and these cases,” Dr Ryan said. “We have an open approach to be able to record the actual impact of disease in society.”

No new Covid variants have been detected in China, despite the surge in cases. However, the WHO has warned this could be due to a decrease in testing.

Several countries, including the United States, the UK, France, Japan, and Australia, have introduced pre-departure testing requirements on travellers from China. Beijing has criticised these as politically motivated and threatened to retaliate.

Countries like Malaysia and New Zealand, however, said they have no plans to require visitors from China to provide a negative Covid-19 test although the latter will randomly test arrivals from China in coming weeks on a voluntary basis.

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa last week said Malaysia will conduct wastewater surveillance on incoming flights from China and conduct fever screenings on all travellers.

Local infectious disease experts are against banning visitors from China, saying it will not prevent a Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia or the entry of new and potentially dangerous variants.

Instead, they stress enhancing local measures like disease surveillance, booster vaccination with the mRNA vaccine, masking, ventilation, and early treatment.

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