Accidental release of data reveals how many people actually died of COVID in China

You may remember that last December China suddenly dropped its zero-COVID approach and within weeks there was evidence the disease was running rampant through the population. There were multiple reports later the same month about long lines at Chinese crematoriums and overwhelmed funeral homes. There was really no doubt this was happening because international news outlets like Reuters had video.

Advertisement

What we did not get, of course, from China was any official count of the number of people who’d died. Well, that’s not strictly true. We did get an official number from China in January of nearly 60, 000 additional deaths. Simply put, no one believed that was remotely close to the real number.

Recently, one provincial government posted what appeared to be an accurate figure for the total number of cremations for the first quarter of the year. The figures were quickly pulled down but not before they were noticed.

Official data from China offered a rare, but brief, glimpse of the true toll of Covid, indicating that nearly as many people may have died from the virus in a single province earlier this year as Beijing has said died in the mainland during the entire pandemic.

The data was deleted from a provincial government website just days after it was published on Thursday. But epidemiologists who reviewed a cached version of the information said it was the latest indication that the country’s official tally is a vast undercount.

The number of cremations in the eastern province of Zhejiang rose to 171,000 in the first quarter of this year, the website said. That was 72,000 more cremations, a roughly 70 percent increase, than had been reported in the same period last year.

Advertisement

As of February, China claimed the official death toll for the entire country was 83,150, and yet the excess deaths in this one province for one quarter was around 72,000. Academics who had earlier estimated the actual death toll were able to use the real numbers from this one province to estimate an actual death toll for the entire country.

Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said that the data can be used for a crude estimate of China’s nationwide death toll. “I’m not sure the impact would have been exactly the same in every province, but I think it would be useful for a rough extrapolation,” he said. “It’s consistent with the estimates of around 1.5 million.”

Another team of researchers — Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of biology and statistics at the University of Texas at Austin and Zhanwei Du, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong — reached a rough estimate of 1.54 million deaths from December through March in mainland China, based on the cremation count.

Again, that estimate is for the first quarter of this year but does not include any deaths from the month of December when zero-Covid was first abandoned. It also doesn’t include the first weeks of COVID back in 2020 when China also seemed to be intentionally undercounting. So 1.5 million is really just a floor. Coming up with a more accurate total isn’t possible unless someone else actually publishes some more data.

Advertisement

By comparison the CDC lists the US death toll at 1.13 million. The overall number is significantly lower but keep in mind that China’s population is about four times larger than ours. However, even that may not be a truly fair comparison. As David pointed out recently, the US figures are almost certainly a big overestimate in the sense that the CDC has been counting anyone who had COVID when they died as a COVID death even if the disease wasn’t the cause of death. The best estimate is that the actual number of deaths from COVID is about 30% less.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on HotAir Videos

Advertisement
John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement