China’s National Health Commission (NHC) has halted the release of daily Covid-19 data amid concerns about the reliability of the figures after infections exploded amid an abrupt easing of strict restrictions.
“Relevant Covid information will be released by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention for reference and research purposes,” the commission said in a statement, without specifying the reasons for the change or how frequently China CDC updates the public with new Covid information will update.
The sudden halt in reporting daily infection and death numbers comes as concerns grew over the lack of vital information that has been made available since Beijing fundamentally changed its zero-Covid policy, leaving hundreds of millions of its citizens under quarantined and beaten the world’s second-biggest economy.
Despite the record spike in infections, the NHC had reported no Covid deaths nationwide for four consecutive days before halting the release of the data. Last week, China narrowed its definition of a Covid death, counting only Covid-related pneumonia or respiratory failure.
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that China may struggle to keep a list of Covid-19 infections. The WHO has not received data from China on new Covid hospitalizations since Beijing eased its restrictions. The lack of data transparency has made monitoring the magnitude of this latest Covid outbreak difficult.
Officially, China has reported fewer than 10 Covid-related deaths in the past two weeks, but a surge in demand for crematoria has been interpreted as evidence the true death toll is much higher.
UK-based health data company Airfinity estimated last week that China is seeing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths every day.
On Friday, a local health official in Qingdao reported that the city was seeing “between 490,000 and 530,000” new Covid cases every day. The report was shared by several other news outlets but appeared to have been edited by Saturday morning to remove case counts.
According to state media, the country’s healthcare system has been under tremendous strain as staff have been asked to work while sick and retired medical workers in rural communities have been reinstated to support grassroots efforts.
The urgency is heightened with the approach of the Lunar New Year in January, when large numbers of people travel across the country.
Reuters contributed to this report