Close to two million died in China during the weeks after


The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not made public any real accounting of the death toll since the ruling Chinese Communist Party abandoned its Zero-COVID policy on December 7, 2022, and allowed a tsunami of infections to wash over the country, infecting upwards of 90 percent of the population. 

Despite the deluge of COVID cases, inundated health systems and mass cremations that were underway, Chinese health officials persisted in minimizing the extent of the crisis, stating that at most 60,000 people had died between early December and January 12, 2023. However, daily reporting by the national ministry completely ceased towards the end of December. 

Official total of COVID deaths in China. Most estimates place the death toll at ten times or even more than these figures. [Photo: Our World in Data]

On February 9, 2023, near the tail-end of the winter Omicron wave across mainland China, daily deaths began being reported again. However, the official cumulative COVID death toll stood at a mere 83,150, which was widely understood as a vast undercount. This was because only hospital deaths from respiratory failure and a confirmed COVID test was counted, which excluded those who were not tested or who died from other COVID-related causes or who never made it to the hospital. 

Estimates provided at that time by the UK-based predictive health analytics company Airfinity placed the death toll at a horrific 1.3 million by the first week of February. Other university-based researchers had indicated a range of between one and two million fatalities. More recent empirically based studies have only corroborated these grim early estimates and modeling analysis of the catastrophic loss of life that took place.

Before reviewing these, it bears noting that one year prior, on February 8, 2022, before the Omicron surge began to chip away at China’s public health defenses, Our World in Data (OWD) had placed the official death toll from COVID in China at 5,700, at a time when the official global tally had reached a grim figure of six million and worldwide excess deaths were estimated at more than 22 million. The success of China’s Zero-COVID policy was unassailable. 

However, perceptible shifts in policy and official attitudes became demonstrable after the March 2022 Omicron surge that centered on the Shanghai metropolis. In particular, the campaign in the international bourgeois press calling for ending Zero-COVID assumed fever pitch and Chinese officials were under considerable global financial pressures to end their public health policy and resume normal commercial relations. By mid-November, health authorities had rapidly moved towards a mitigationist posture, then opened the floodgates altogether on December 7, 2022.

Last week, a new study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, published in JAMA Network, estimated that 1.87 million excess deaths occurred in China among those 30 years and older in the first two months after ending the Zero-COVID policy.

What distinguished this study from others was the review of empirical data and the use of Baidu, a commonly used Chinese internet search engine, to conduct syndromic surveillance, which can be used for early detection of outbreaks, follow the size, spread, and spread of outbreaks and monitor disease trends.

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