Amid growing reports of cover-ups and undercounts, leaks from China’s top health officials suggest a stunning 250 million new infections in the first 20 days of December.
Almost 250 million people in China may have contracted Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December alone, according to an internal estimate from the nation’s top health officials, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times reported on Friday.
If accurate, this estimate – which other media outlets have not yet independently confirmed – would represent some 18% of China’s 1.4 billion people and be the largest Covid-19 outbreak to date anywhere in the world.
Both the Financial Times and Bloomberg laid out in detail the discussions by Chinese authorities over how to handle the staggering outbreak, which comes on the heels of an abrupt pivot away from Xi Jinping’s unsuccessful ‘zero-Covid’ strategy.
Among the figures cited in both reports was the revelation that on last Tuesday alone (December 20), 37 million people were newly infected with Covid-19 across China. That number stands in an almost comical contrast to the official number of 3,049 new infections nationwide reported that day.
The Financial Times report said it was a deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention named Sun Yang who presented the jaw-dropping figures to China’s authorities during a closed-door briefing, citing two people familiar with the matter.
The FT report went on to note that Sun explained, perhaps even more concerning, the rate of Covid’s spread in China was still rising and estimated that more than half of the population in both Beijing and Sichuan were already infected.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as China has been suspected of suppressing its true Covid data in the past, the figures are in stark contrast to the public information from the NHC, which showed a report of just 62,592 symptomatic Covid cases in the first 20 days of December.
Facing growing skepticism that it is downplaying and underreporting Covid deaths – with only eight reported so far this month – the Chinese government defended the accuracy of its official figures by revealing it had ‘updated’ its method of counting fatalities caused by the virus. This had not been reported previously, however.
According to the latest NHC guidelines, only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting the virus are classified as Covid deaths, Wang Guiqiang, a top infectious disease doctor in China, stated at a a news conference on December 20.
Health officials around the world, including the World Health Organization, have urged China to replace its ‘faltering’ vaccines and dramatically step up its importation and use of mRNA vaccines, such as those made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, to help mitigate the wildfire-like spread of Covid through the country of 1.4 billion.
That necessity has been echoed by a number of leading infectious disease experts and medical professionals in China, too, including respiratory scientist Zhong Nanshan, who spoke at a recent science forum in Guangzhou and said that China could learn from the West about advanced mRNA vaccine technology.
After nearly three years of its failed ‘zero-Covid’ approach and scores of debilitating targeted lockdowns, it seems China is poised to take its turn at the Covid pandemic misery that the rest of the world has lived through… and from which it has largely moved on.
Reporting from CNN, Bloomberg, SCMP, and Financial Times contributed to this article.
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