Unreliable data, patchy estimates and doubts about the appearance of new variants: China is currently facing the strongest wave of COVID in the world, after the lifting of its restrictions, causing concern in many countries .
Beijing has admitted it: Since last month abandoning large-scale screenings of the population through PCR tests, quantifying the contagions on its territory has become “impossible”.
The National Health Commission (NHC), which has the value of a ministry, has stopped publishing the daily figures of cases and deaths. Now the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does this, but starting next week it will only do this once a month.
Authorities have recently changed the criteria for assigning a death due to COVID. Thus, only 15 such deaths have been reported in the country of 1.4 billion people since restrictions were lifted on December 7.
What raise doubts about the ability of official Chinese figures to reflect reality, while hospitals and crematoria are overwhelmed by an influx of patients and victims of COVID.
The authorities admitted last week to collect “much less” data compared to when large-scale testing was being conducted.
To 'fill in the gaps' in statistics, authorities are relying on online surveys, hospital visits, fever medicine requests and emergency calls, according to disease control official Yin Wenwu .
Numerous countries including the United States, Australia and Canada cite the lack of transparency of Chinese data to justify their decision to impose PCR tests on travelers from China.
Some local authorities have started to publish figures: this is the case of the province of Zhejiang (east), bordering Shanghai, which estimated last week that one million new cases appeared every day.
< p>The city of Qingdao (east) has reported 500,000 new daily infections, that of Dongguan (south) evokes 300,000.
In the island-province of Hainan (south), the authorities on Friday estimated the contagion rate among residents at more than 50%, while the cities of Quzhou and Zhoushan (east) calculated that at least 30% of their population had caught COVID.
One of the country's leading epidemiologists, Wu Zunyou, said Thursday that the peak had passed in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu (southwest) and Tianjin (north).
In Shanghai, the epidemic “may have affected 70% of the population, 20 to 30 times more” than during the previous outbreak in spring 2022, Chen Erzhen, vice president of Ruijin Hospital, told a blog affiliated with People's Daily. .
It is difficult to put all this partial data together to arrive at a complete picture of the national situation. Figures leaked from a meeting of health authorities last month suggested 250 million infections in the first 20 days of December.
Independent projections are pessimistic. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong predict that nearly one million Chinese could die from the virus this winter.
The British medical analysis company Airfinity, which estimates the number of daily deaths in China at 11,000 and contagions at 1.8 million per day, expects 1.7 million deaths by the end of April.
Many countries are concerned about possible new variants and are imposing testing on travelers from China.
None However, no new strain of COVID-19 has been detected.
According to Xu Wenbo, a CDC official, a new national database from the collection of samples from hospitals is in the works.< /p>
The Omicron BA.5.2 and BF.7 variant sublineages remain dominant in Beijing, he said, in response to fears that the more dangerous Delta variant is still circulating. Omicron is in Shanghai.
In many Western countries, the XBB and BQ subvariants, which are more transmissible but not yet dominant in China, have taken over.
The Last month, China submitted 384 samples of Omicron to the global Gisaid database, according to its website. But the total number of samples from Beijing since the start of the epidemic (1,308) remains much lower than those from other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Cambodia or Senegal.
The recent samples brought by Beijing “all strongly resemble the variants known and circulating in the world between July and December”, according to Gisaid.
Virologist Jin Don-yan, from the University of Hong Kong, recently said in a podcast that the possibility of a more deadly variant emerging in China remains “very low”.