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Leaked notes from Chinese health officials estimate 250 million Covid-19 infections in December: reports



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CNN

Nearly 250 million people in China may have caught Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December, according to an internal estimate by the country’s top health officials, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times reported on Friday.

If correct, the estimate – which CNN cannot independently confirm – would represent around 18% of China’s 1.4 billion people and represent the largest Covid-19 outbreak to date in the world. .

The cited figures were presented at an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on Wednesday, according to the two outlets – which cited sources familiar with the matter or involved in the discussions. The NHC’s summary of Wednesday’s meeting said it looked at treating patients affected by the new outbreak.

On Friday, a copy of what were allegedly the NHC meeting notes was circulated on Chinese social media and seen by CNN; the authenticity of the document was not verified and the NHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Financial Times and Bloomberg both detailed authorities’ discussions of how to handle the outbreak.

Among the estimates cited in both reports was the revelation that on Tuesday alone, 37 million people were newly infected with Covid-19 across China. This contrasted dramatically with the official number of 3,049 new infections reported that day.

The Financial Times said it was Sun Yang – a deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention – who presented the figures to officials during the closed-door briefing, citing two people familiar with the matter.

Sun explained that the rate of spread of Covid in China continues to increase and estimated that more than half the population of Beijing and Sichuan were already infected, according to the Financial Times.

The estimates follow China’s decision in early December to abruptly dismantle its strict zero-Covid policy that had been in place for nearly three years.

The figures contrast sharply with public data from the NHC, which reported just 62,592 symptomatic Covid cases in the first twenty days of December.

How the NHC arrived at the estimates cited by Bloomberg and the Financial Times is unclear, as China no longer officially tallies its total number of infections, after authorities shut down their nationwide network of PCR testing booths. and said they would stop collecting data on asymptomatic cases.

The Chinese also now use rapid antigen tests to detect infections and are not required to report positive results.

Officially, China has reported just eight Covid deaths this month – a surprisingly low figure given the virus’s rapid spread and relatively low booster rates among the elderly.

Only 42.3% of people aged 80 and over in China have received a third dose of the vaccine, according to a CNN calculation of new figures released by the NHC on December 14.

Amid growing skepticism that it is downplaying Covid deaths, the Chinese government has defended the accuracy of its official tally by revealing that it has updated its method of counting deaths caused by the virus.

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, an infectious disease doctor, said at a press conference on Tuesday. .

Minutes from Wednesday’s closed-door NHC meeting made no reference to discussions about how many people may have died in China, according to the two reports and the document seen by CNN.

“The numbers seem plausible, but I don’t have any other sources of data to compare [them] with. If the estimated infection figures mentioned here are accurate, it means the national peak will occur within the next week,” Ben Cowling, professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong told CNN in a statement sent. via email, when asked about the alleged NHC estimates. .

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