China’s Skyrocketing Number of Covid Cases


Hospitals are flooding with Covid patients. Courtesy of Hector Retamal.

On December 7, 2022, China’s government officially ceased their “zero covid” policies, also known as mandatory lockdowns This was because the number of complaints from the Chinese citizens that the government received was overwhelming, and the people were beginning to protest about having to be quarantined from the beginning of 2022. Since then, it has been speculated that covid cases within China have skyrocketed, however, most of these cases have not been officially recorded and reported. 

Over the past several days, there has only been an average of 3 deaths a day, according to Google’s statistics.  Ironically, foreign media shows otherwise; videos posted online of China showed crowded hospital hallways, and international media traveled to overbooked funeral sites. Even before the policies were suspended, the death toll timeline seemed to not exist, with no deaths per day on average all the way from the end of May to the end of November. Especially in a country with more than a billion people, this leads to the question many wonder: Why are the numbers so low?

As estimated by the UK health analytics firm Airfinity, there should have been around 110,000 fatalities since the start of December averaging around 11,000 fatalities per day. However, many experts agree that this number greatly differs from the reported cases mainly because of one underlying reason: reputation.

During the early stages of the pandemic, China for a period of time refused to submit a portion of its cases. In response to global pressure, however, China started to publicize even their asymptomatic cases. This yet again changed because recently developed a new and distinctive definition of a death from Covid. Essentially, the government only counted it as a death when it meets all the expectations from the new criteria. According to Wang Guiqiang, head of the infectious disease division at Peking University First Hospital, he mentions how deaths from complications in other areas of the body, such as underlying diseases rendered worse by the virus, would not be counted in the official number of fatalities. According to another notable Chinese medical expert, only deaths brought on by pneumonia and respiratory failure following COVID would be categorized as having been brought on by the coronavirus. 

This method of reporting cases has been accused of not being effective by countries outside of China. Mike Ryan, emergency director of the World Health Organization, mentions, “I wouldn’t like to say that China is actively not telling us what’s going on. I think they’re behind the curve.”Additionally, others had a say in how honest reportings would avoid skepticism which led to investigations to dig up the truth. Steve Brine, chair of the Commons health and social care committee, states how “This wouldn’t be happening if China was upfront and open and shared its data as many other countries do.”,”

Many have wondered if the sharp increase in Covid cases also has to do with the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Covid vaccines approved in China, but that is not the case. As reported by NPR, “The American media has shared a lot of misinformation about the Chinese vaccines,” states global health researcher Xi Chen at Yale University. Even though both of these vaccines have been recommended by the World Health Organization, recent headlines in the U.S. have called them into question.

Due to these occurrences, China has been loosening travel restrictions as well as mandatory 8-day quarantine for those entering the country. Some expect that this procedure may result in an overwhelming number of people leaving China and entering other countries. There are also concerns about vaccination status because the variants spreading in China are already common in other places; few epidemiologists favor the additional travel restrictions. According to the majority of specialists, they worry that a vaccine-evading variant would emerge in China are exaggerated because the population’s level of immunity is so low, meaning that present variants can readily flourish there.

For the year 2023, it is yet to be seen which direction the Covid outbreaks are headed. However, by looking at the statistics and different models, such as the Airfinity model, there will be multiple peaks; the forecast, which originally called for two successive waves, has been revised to call for a single, more powerful wave it predicts.