Calls for more Covid data from China after report of 60,000 deaths

Coronavirus: UK to impose screening on travellers from China

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on China to share more data on its ongoing COVID-19 situation — after Beijing last week reported recording nearly 60,000 Covid-related deaths in just over one month. The request was made yesterday by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a meeting with the director of China’s National Health Commission, Dr Xiowei Ma. In a statement, the UN health agency said: “Dr Tedros also reiterated the importance of China’s deeper cooperation and transparency on understanding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

China has been subjected to much criticism over its lack of transparency around Covid in recent weeks.

Infections have surged in the People’s Republic since the nation lifted its strict “Zero Covid” policy in the face of growing public backlash on December 7 last year.

As of just the past week, however, China had been officially suggesting that there had only been 37 deaths — out of a population of 1.4 billion — since December, having redefined its criteria for recording Covid deaths such that only those who died of respiratory failure would be counted.

The UN health agency contrasted Beijing’s approach with that of Washington DC’s “radical transparency” as the United States battles the new Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5.

On Wednesday, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan had said the agency “still believed that deaths are heavily underreported from China”.

He added: “We still do not have adequate information to make a full comprehensive risk assessment.

“Doctors in the public health system need to be encouraged to report these cases, and not discouraged.”

Beijing’s recent attitude has, in no small part, encouraged many western countries to introduce travel restrictions on passengers from China.

The UK Government has announced that travellers from China will need to present a negative test result to their airline before flying — with a subset of passengers also tested for Covid on arrival in order to collect information on the outbreak.

Yesterday, the WHO said, “Chinese officials provided information […] on a range of topics, including outpatient clinics, hospitalisations, patients requiring emergency treatment and critical care, and hospital deaths related to COVID-19 infection.

“WHO is analysing this information, which covers early December 2022 to 12 January 2023, and allows for a better understanding of the epidemiological situation and the impact of this wave in China.

“WHO requested that this type of detailed information continue to be shared with us and the public.

“WHO notes the efforts by Chinese authorities to scale up clinical care for its population at all levels, including in critical care.”

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According to WHO experts, the epidemiology of China’s current surge in COVID-19 cases is similar to those waves of infection previously seen in other countries.

Specifically, they said, there is “a rapid and intense wave of disease caused by known sub-variants of Omicron with higher clinical impact in older people and those with underlying conditions” — along with increased pressure on health services.

China has reported that the present outbreak appears to have peaked, with data indicating a decline in case numbers, hospitalisations, and the overall number of people requiring critical care.

WHO officials, however, said that they have “requested a more detailed breakdown of data by province over time.”

According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 strains presently circulating in China are the Omicron sublineages BA.5.2 and BF.7.

In their statement, the WHO said that they are continuing “to ask that further sequences be share with open access databases […] for deeper phylogenetic [evolutionary history] analyses

And, they continued, “for continued collaboration with technical groups working on virus evolution, clinical care and beyond.”

The health agency concluded: “WHO will continue to work with China, providing technical advice and support, and engaging on analysing the situation.”

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