Beijing: China said on Tuesday it has changed how it defines Covid-19 death, confirming speculation that the government is hiding the true nature of the ongoing outbreak that has overwhelmed crematoria, overcrowded clinics and caused a massive shortage of essential medicines. country.
Experts and officials in other countries began to worry that this could threaten the world’s precarious grip on the coronavirus, as an unchecked or underestimated situation in China could lead to new variants.
“In terms of the current outbreak in China, we want to address that,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said late Monday.
“We know that whenever the virus is spreading in the wild, it has the ability to mutate and become a threat to people everywhere.”
On Tuesday, Chinese authorities said they would only count people who tested positive for Covid and those who died of respiratory failure as official virus deaths. Wang Guiqiang, the chief infectious disease doctor, told reporters at a National Health Commission briefing in Beijing that people believed to have died from another disease or an event such as a heart attack will not be classified as virus deaths, though. sick with covid at the time.
This is in line with what other countries, including India, follow, and China’s older policy, under which anyone who dies while having Covid, regardless of their underlying condition, would be classified as an official Covid death.
The change comes at a time when the rapid rise in cases has come with few deaths, putting China at odds with the experiences of other countries, including Shanghai and Hong Kong, and raising concerns that officials are trying to hide the true death toll. .
The country has reported fewer than 10 deaths since the start of the month, despite a growing chorus of media reports and social media posts showing crematoria and funeral homes, particularly in the capital Beijing, overflowing.
From the country’s north-east to south-west, crematoria workers told AFP they are struggling to keep up with the rising death toll.
In Chongqing – a city of 30 million where authorities this week asked people with mild Covid symptoms to go to work – a worker told AFP that the crematorium had run out of room to keep bodies.
“The number of bodies received in the last days is much higher than before,” said an employee who did not give his name. “We are very busy, there is no more room in the refrigerator for bodies,” they added.
“We’re not sure (if it’s related to Covid), you have to ask the people in charge.”
In the southern megapolis of Guangzhou, a worker at a crematorium in the Zengcheng district told AFP that more than 30 bodies were being burned a day.
“We have been assigned bodies from other districts. There is no other option,” said the employee. Another crematorium in the city also said they were “extremely busy”.
“It is three to four times more crowded than previous years, we are burning more than 40 bodies every day when there were only a dozen,” said a worker.
“The whole of Guangzhou is like this,” they added, stressing that it was “difficult” to say whether the rise in bodies was linked to Covid or not.
In the northeastern city of Shenyang, an employee of a funeral service business said that bodies of the dead were left unburied for five days because crematoriums were “completely full”.
“Potential to change”
Health agencies, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been looking for new variants, such as delta or omicron, as the Covid-19 wave has hit different countries around the world. New variants “allow the virus to spread more easily or become resistant to treatments or vaccines,” according to the CDC.
The US State Department official also pointed to a greater risk to the global economy from China’s emergence. The US – which is sending a delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing at the start of the new year – hopes China can get its current Covid-19 outbreak under control, in part because any further blow to the Asian nation could hurt the rest of the world. the economy