Leaked notes from Chinese health officials estimate 250 million Covid-19 infections in December: reports

Hong Kong

Nearly 250 million people in China may have contracted Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December, according to an internal estimate by the country’s top health authorities, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times reported on Friday.

If the estimate is correct – which CNN cannot independently confirm – it would account for about 18% of China’s 1.4 billion people and represent the world’s largest Covid-19 outbreak to date.

The figures cited were presented on Wednesday during an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission (NHC), according to both media outlets – which cited sources familiar with the matter or involved in the discussions. The NHC summary of Wednesday’s meeting says it is looking into treating patients affected by the new outbreak.

On Friday, a copy of the alleged NHC meeting notes circulated on Chinese social media and was seen by CNN; The authenticity of the document was not verified and the NHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both the Financial Times and Bloomberg detailed the authorities’ discussions about how to deal with the outbreak.

Medical staff at a fever clinic treating Covid-19 patients in Beijing, China on December 21.

Estimates cited in both reports included the revelation that 37 million people across China were newly infected with Covid-19 on Tuesday alone. That was in dramatic contrast to the official figure of 3,049 new infections reported that day.

The Financial Times said it was Sun Yang – a deputy director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention – who presented the figures to officials during the closed-door briefing, citing two people familiar with the matter.

Sun explained that the rate of spread of Covid in China is still increasing and estimated that more than half of the population in Beijing and Sichuan has already been infected, according to the Financial Times.

The estimates follow China’s decision in early December to abruptly dismantle its strict zero-Covid policy that has been in place for nearly three years.

The figures stand in stark contrast to public data from the NHC, which reported just 62,592 symptomatic Covid cases in the first twenty days of December.

How the NHC came up with the estimates cited by Bloomberg and the Financial Times is unclear, as China has stopped officially counting its total number of infections after authorities shut down their nationwide network of PCR test stands and said they would stop collecting Data set asymptomatic cases.

People in China are also now using rapid antigen tests to detect infection and are not required to report positive results.

Officially, China has reported just eight Covid deaths this month – a strikingly low number given the rapid spread of the virus and relatively low booster vaccination rates among the elderly.

According to a CNN calculation of new figures released by the NHC on December 14, only 42.3% of those over 80 in China have received a third dose of vaccine.

Amid growing skepticism that it is downplaying Covid deaths, the Chinese government defended the accuracy of its official tally by revealing that it had updated its method of counting deaths from the virus.

Under the latest NHC guidelines, only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting the virus are classified as Covid deaths, Wang Guiqiang, a top infectious disease doctor, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The minutes of Wednesday’s closed-door NHC meeting made no reference to discussions about how many people might have died in China, according to both reports and the document seen by CNN.

“The numbers look plausible, but I don’t have any other data sources to compare [them] with. If the estimated infection numbers mentioned here are accurate, it means the nationwide peak will occur within the next week,” Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, told CNN in an emailed statement when he was asked about the alleged NHC estimates.

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