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 officials, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times reported Friday.
If correct, the estimate, which CNN cannot independently confirm, would account for about 18% of China’s 1.4 billion people and represent the largest Covid-19 outbreak to date in the world.
The quoted figures were presented at an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on Wednesday, according to the two outlets, citing sources familiar with the matter or involved in the discussions. The NHC’s summary of the meeting on Wednesday said it discussed the treatment of patients affected by the new outbreak.
On Friday, a copy of what were purported to be the NHC meeting notes were circulated on Chinese social media and viewed by CNN; The authenticity of the document was not verified and the NHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Financial Times and Bloomberg detailed the authorities’ discussions on how to handle the outbreak.
Among the estimates cited in both reports was the revelation that on Tuesday alone, 37 million people were newly infected with Covid-19 across China. This was in stark contrast to the official number of 3,049 new infections reported that day.
The Financial Times said it was Sun Yang, deputy director of the Chinese 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 of Beijing and Sichuan was already infected, according to the Financial Times.
The estimates follow China’s decision in early December to abruptly dismantle its strict zero-Covid policy that had been in place for nearly three years.
The figures are in stark contrast to public data from the NHC, which reported just 62,592 symptomatic cases of covid in the first twenty days of December.
It is unclear how the NHC arrived at the estimates cited by Bloomberg and the Financial Times, as China no longer officially counts its total number of infections, after authorities closed its national network of PCR testing booths and said they would stop to collect data on asymptomatic patients. cases.
The Chinese now also use rapid antigen tests to detect infections and are not required to report positive results.
Officially, China has reported just eight Covid deaths this month, a surprisingly low figure given the rapid spread of the virus and relatively low reinforcement rates among the elderly.
Only 42.3% of people over the age of 80 in China have received a third dose of the vaccine, according to a CNN calculation of new figures released by the NHC on December 14.
Amid growing skepticism that it is underplaying Covid deaths, the Chinese government has defended the accuracy of its official tally by revealing that it has 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, an infectious disease doctor, told 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 the two reports and the document seen by CNN.
“The numbers seem plausible, but I don’t have any other data source to compare [them] with. If the estimated infection figures mentioned here are accurate, it means the national 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 asked about the alleged infection. CNH estimates. .