China limits its definition of COVID deaths

China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID-19 death statistics, a Chinese health official said. It is a strict definition that limits the number of deaths reported, in the midst of an outbreak of the virus after the lifting of restrictions against the pandemic in the country.

Deaths of patients with pre-existing medical problems are not included among the deaths from COVID-19, said Wang Guiqiang, head of infectious diseases at Peking University No. 1 Hospital.

China has always used conservative criteria in its medical statistics, whether for the flu or for COVID-19. In most countries, like USAthe recommendations stipulate that any death where COVID-19 was a factor is counted as a death associated with COVID-19.

In practice, Wang’s remarks on Tuesday were simply clarifying publicly what the country has done throughout the pandemic.

China reported no coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, in fact subtracting one from the official count, which stood at 5,241 people in total, according to the daily report by the National Health Commission, which did not give a reason for the withdrawal.

The clarification of how China officially records COVID-19 deaths came amid a surge in cases across the country after restrictions were lifted. But it’s hard to get an accurate picture of the outbreak because authorities have stopped requiring frequent PCR tests and many people are testing at home. There are anecdotal data of many patients in cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Shanghai was hit this year by an outbreak fueled by the omicron variant. Many people said to PA so that their elderly relatives who tested positive for COVID-19 and died had not entered the city’s official death count. When patients had underlying diseases, their deaths were attributed to those previous problems.

An AP investigation later revealed that the data has been disguised by the way in which the health authorities compile their statistics, since they apply very narrow, non-transparent and sometimes variable criteria, as happened in Shanghai when the authorities changed their definition of positive cases.

Those more restrictive criteria have meant that the death toll from COVID-19 will always be considerably lower than in other countries.

An Associated Press journalist watched several people being carried out of funeral homes in Beijing last week, and two relatives told the AP that their relatives had died after testing positive for COVID-19. However, the country did not report any deaths from the disease last week.

Each country counts cases and deaths differently, and head-to-head comparisons often give little information due to patchy diagnostic tests.

However, experts have reiterated that the authorities must err on the side of prudence when counting the dead. Problems in those counts have raised questions in countries from South Africa to Russia.

The World Health Organization estimated in May that almost 15 million people had died of COVID-19 or from the overload of health systems in the first two years of the pandemic. That is above the official death toll of 6 million people for that period.


AP science journalist Aniruddha Ghosal contributed to this report from New Delhi.

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