China finally reported its first Covid-19-related deaths in weeks amid rising doubts over whether the official count was capturing the full toll of the virus. The country of 1.4 billion population reported five new fatalities for December 19, compared with two the previous day, increasing the nation’s official death count to 5,242. The new fatalities were the first to be reported by the National Health Commission (NHC) since December 3, days before Beijing announced that it was lifting strict Covid-19 curbs which had largely kept the disease in check for three years but triggered widespread protests last month.
China also reported 2,722 new symptomatic coronavirus infections on December 19, compared with 1,995 a day earlier. Excluding imported infections, China reported 2,656 new local cases, up from 1,918 a day earlier. As of Monday, mainland China has confirmed 3,83,175 Covid-19 cases with symptoms. However, Covid-19 cases and related deaths are expected to increase in the coming months as the virus continues to rip through cities after Xi Jinping’s government relaxed strict anti-virus controls.
China’s chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou last week said that the country was in the throes of the first of three Covid-19 waves expected this winter. Beijing city official Xu Hejian also said on Monday that the virus was spreading fast in the capital.
Still, more restrictions will be lifted, with previously-closed venues located underground, from bars to internet cafes, allowed to re-open, Beijing city official Xu Hejian said.
While top officials have been downplaying the threat posed by the Omicron strain of the virus in recent weeks, authorities remain concerned about the elderly, who have been reluctant to get vaccinated.
Some fear China’s Covid-19 death toll could rise above 10 lakh in the coming days.
According to new projections from the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), China’s abrupt lifting of its stringent Covid-19 curbs could result in an explosion of cases and over 10 lakh deaths next year.
As per the group’s projections, coronavirus cases in China would peak around April 1, 2023, when deaths would reach 3,22,000.
About a third of China’s population will have been infected by then, IHME Director Christopher Murray said.
“Nobody thought they would stick to zero-COVID as long as they did,” he said last week when the IHME projections were released online.