Patients on stretchers are seen at Tongren hospital in Shanghai on January 3, 2023. (Hector Retamal /AFP via Getty Images)
The Epoch Times
The Chinese regime is still covering up the true COVID-19 death toll in China, experts said in response to Chinese authorities’ recent admission of tens of thousands of deaths in the latest wave. The true figure is likely exponentially higher, they say.
Studies and official statements revealing high infection numbers, as well as accounts from residents and mortuary workers, suggest the country is harboring a significant death count, according to analysts.
China’s top health regulator on Jan. 14 acknowledged nearly 60,000 COVID-19-related deaths in the first five weeks after the regime’s abrupt retreat from its zero-COVID policy in December 2022.
While the figure is an increase from the absurdly low official tallies—37 deaths—previously reported by Chinese officials that prompted widespread skepticism, experts remain unconvinced by the disclosure.
“The newly reported death figures are still suspicious,” said Song Guo-cheng, a researcher at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations in Taiwan.
The rate of COVID-19 infection suggests a far higher death toll, according to Song.
A study by China’s Peking University estimated that up to 64 percent of the country’s population, or 900 million people, had already contracted COVID-19 by mid-January. The researchers’ model is based on online search data of COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and cough.
As explosive outbreaks ripple across the country, health experts both at home and abroad have turned to proxy data, such as online surveys and anecdotal accounts, to gauge the scale of the outbreak in the absence of reliable COVID statistics.
China’s top health body, the National Health Commission (NHC), stopped publishing daily infections and acknowledged only dozens of deaths prior to the latest disclosure. But scenes of overwhelmed hospitals and crematoria have stoked distrust of the official tallies among Chinese residents and outside observers.
Even regional data pointed to an outbreak far more severe than what the nation’s top health authorities disclosed.
An official in China’s central Henan Province, home to 99.4 million people, said in a press conference that the COVID-19 infection rate may have hit 89 percent by Jan. 6. In the northern city of Hohhot, which has a population of 3 million, authorities said on Jan. 14 that between 74 to 81 percent have caught the virus.
The NHC estimated that 250 million people had contracted the virus from Dec. 1 to Dec. 20, 2022, according to leaked minutes from a meeting last month.
With the roughly 70 percent infection rate and a large elderly population, the death toll, based on a 1 percent mortality rate, should be much higher than the official tally of 60,000 COVID-19-related deaths, according to Song.
“The information obtained from various sources and online reports is in sharp contrast with the [COVID] figures disclosed by the Chinese Communist Party [CCP]. This underscores that the CCP is still playing with the data, covering up [the true scale of the outbreak], Song said.
Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and a COVID-19 adviser during the Trump administration, expressed a similar viewpoint.
“We cannot trust the numbers coming out of China. They didn’t make sense in the beginning,” Atlas said of China’s COVID data in a recent interview with NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.
While Chinese authorities may have made revisions to the death toll, Atlas suggested that the true situation remains concealed.
“It’s very difficult to figure out what’s going on when there’s no transparency,” said Atlas, who’s also a contributor to The Epoch Times.
He noted that the Chinese regime “apparently prefers to save face rather than tell the truth and cooperate fully with the international community.”
Death Toll Concealed
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the regime has drawn widespread criticism for its covering up of COVID-related information in a bid to downplay news that it deems harmful to its image. As the virus first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, the regime concealed the scale of the outbreak and silenced whistleblowers, allowing regional outbreaks to develop into a pandemic.
Now, with the virus spreading like a wildfire through the nation’s vast population, who have weakened immune systems after three years of harsh lockdowns, there’s a widening gap between official figures and accounts from crematorium workers, frontline staff, and residents on the ground.
A worker at Baoxing funeral home in Shanghai told The Epoch Times in December 2022 that they were burning 400 to 500 bodies a day, up from the maximum of 90 before the pandemic restrictions were lifted.
Another resident in the nearby city of Suzhou described the crowded condition at Suzhou Funeral Home as akin to the city’s most famous shopping street, which is always packed.
“It’s such a miserable scene,” she said in a recent interview with The Epoch Times. The woman, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, joined the long lines outside the building on Jan. 6, waiting for the cremation of her late mother, who died of COVID two days earlier. That same day, the woman lost two other relatives who died from COVID, she added.
Sean Lin, a virologist and former lab director at the viral disease branch of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, gave a conservative estimate that about 6 million bodies could have been burned over the past month, assuming that China’s crematoriums are running 24/7. But that figure is likely only about half of all deaths, as people in the countryside may not have access to such services and are buried rather than cremated. After subtracting non-COVID-19-related deaths, the death toll could have reached 10 million, Lin said.
“The government is certainly completely lying on this,” he told The Epoch Times.
Lin noted that his rough estimate “is still probably far lower than the real situation, but it’s already much higher than that government’s lie.”
Rural Communities Struggle
The COVID-19 crisis appears to be more acute in rural communities, where medical resources lag behind the large cities.
A villager at Chisha, home to 14,000 in southwest China, said people aged over 70, especially those with underlying diseases, were dying in high numbers. “There were so many catching the virus [in the village]. Around a dozen [of the elderly] have died,” she told The Epoch Times on Jan. 16.
The woman, who only gave her surname Yang for fear of reprisals, noted that the explosive outbreak starting in December 2022 had drained the medical resources of the village in Shaanxi Province.
“The village doctors went home to give an injection as people tested positive for the first time. Soon after, they ran out of medicine. Many elderly people weren’t able to make it through and passed away,” she said.
But those villagers dying at home likely aren’t included in the recent update of the fatalities linked to COVID-19. The NHC said that the 59,938 COVID-19-related deaths between Dec. 8, 2022, and Jan. 12, only referred to people who died in hospitals, implying the latest acknowledgment is still likely to be a vast undercount.
The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the regime’s disclosure but appealed to Chinese authorities to continue monitoring “excess mortality.” China’s narrow definition of COVID-19 mortality, which is limited to patients who died from respiratory failure after contracting COVID-19, has led to global criticism, with the WHO saying the criteria “will very much underestimate the true death toll associated with COVID.” No other country uses this narrow definition of a COVID-19 death.
There are already indications that the CCP is pressuring doctors and funeral workers to cover up the fatalities. In December 2022, a funeral parlor leader in Anhui Province said they were instructed to avoid writing COVID-19 pneumonia as the primary cause of death on certificates and use words like lung infection instead.
Outside observers worry that the regime’s cover-up of the country’s current outbreaks poses a fresh risk to global health.
Without reliable data, it’s impossible for international health experts to build mathematical modeling, assess the transmission and fatality rate, and determine whether there are new variants, not to mention develop vaccines to combat it, according to Song.
“Such practices by the CCP will basically create chaos in public health across the globe,” he said.
The lack of reliable public health data has sparked international concern, particularly regarding a new, more deadly variant emerging from the country. The United States and more than a dozen countries now require visitors traveling from China to present negative COVID-19 test results, a border curb that China itself has in place.
Gordon Chang, an author and senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a conservative think tank, suggested that all countries should shut down their borders as the CCP is once again concealing the true scale of the COVID-19 crisis.
“China is too dangerous to deal with, whether we’re talking about COVID or talking about something else. We can not have relations with China, as long as it’s ruled by the Communist Party, because the Communist Party, just by its inherent nature, is malicious,” Chang said in a previous interview.
“We’ve got to defend ourselves.”
Eva Fu, Hong Ning, and Luo Ya contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelt Gordon Chang’s name. The Epoch Times regrets the error.