The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) abrupt move to dismantle its strict COVID-19 regime, which unleashed the virus on China’s 1.4 billion residents, could have led to nearly 2 million excess deaths in the following two months, a new study shows.
The study by the United States-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center was taken from a sample of mortality data published by universities in the PRC and from internet searches.
It found an estimated 1.87 million excess deaths from all causes among people older than 30 between December 2022 and January 2023, with deaths in all provinces in mainland China except Tibet.
The CCP’s decision in December 2022 to end its zero-COVID policy, which included mass testing and stringent and persistent quarantines, led to a massive surge in hospitalizations and deaths that health experts say were largely unreported.
The study, published in late August 2023, said the number of excess deaths far exceeded official CCP estimates in January 2023 that 60,000 people with COVID-19 had died in hospital since the zero-COVID policy was abandoned after three years.
“Our study of excess deaths related to the lifting of the zero-COVID policy in China sets an empirically derived benchmark estimate. These findings are important for understanding how the sudden propagation of COVID-19 across a population may impact population mortality,” researchers wrote.
The PRC’s National Health Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Global health experts repeatedly called on the CCP to reveal more data as reports of rising hospitalizations and deaths emerged, and especially as the threat of new variants became a concern.
The CCP stopped reporting official daily death results in late 2022. The World Health Organization says there have been 121,628 COVID-19 deaths in the PRC and almost 7 million globally.
In a rare move, one Chinese province briefly published data on its website in July showing cremations jumped 70% in the first quarter of 2023. The report was later removed.
In February 2023, CCP leaders declared a “decisive victory” over COVID-19. But in August 2023, Beijing health officials said the virus is still the top infectious disease in the capital, according to state-run media.
Officials cited a new omicron variant, called EG.5, as the dominant strain.
“The National Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention said the proportion of the new variant EG.5 increased from 0.6% in April to 71.6% in August, becoming the dominant strain in most provinces in China,” the state-run Global Times newspaper reported.