China is likely experiencing 1 million Covid infections and 5,000 virus deaths every day as it grapples with what is expected to be the biggest outbreak the world has ever seen, according to a new analysis.
The situation could get even worse for the country of 1.4 billion people. This current wave may see the daily case rate rise to 3.7 million in January, according to Airfinity Ltd., a London-based research firm that focuses on predictive health analytics and has been tracking the pandemic since it first emerged. There’ll likely then be another surge of infections that will push the daily peak to 4.2 million in March, the group estimated.
Its modeling of the scale and toll of China’s outbreak, which uses provincial data, shows the impact of the country’s abrupt pivot away from Covid Zero far exceeds the government’s tally.
Officially, China reported 2,966 new cases for Wednesday and there have been fewer than 10 Covid deaths since the beginning of December. But that contrasts with a growing chorus of reports that hospitals are being overwhelmed with patients and crematoriums are being pushed well beyond their capacity.
Changes to how the government reports virus figures is also a factor. China has largely shut down its vast network of mass-testing booths and scrapped efforts to include every single infection in the daily tally, leaving residents to rely on rapid tests with no obligation to report the results. The country’s health regulator also quietly adopted a narrower definition for what is considered a Covid death — and much more selective than what many Western nations use — making it difficult to gauge the real toll from the current deluge of infections.
These changes mean “the official data is unlikely to be a true reflection of the outbreak being experienced across the country,” said Louise Blair, Airfinity’s head of vaccines and epidemiology, in a statement. “This change could downplay the extent of deaths seen in China.”
Accurately capturing the Covid situation remains difficult across the world as a pivot to living with the virus means fewer countries test frequently. The emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant sparked a jump in infections, including in the US which posted its highest daily case count to date at nearly 1.4 million infections in January 2022. That coincided with the global number exceeding 4 million, according to Our World in Data.