New research has found China’s decision to end its strict Covid zero strategy policy had a truly devastating outcome, with a new report claiming there have been 1.9 million excess deaths in just two months.
The figure applies only to adults over the age of 30 who died between December 2022 and January 2023, according to the paper published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The Chinese government had previously disclosed about 60,000 COVID-related deaths in health facilities from early December to the middle of January.
The researchers estimate is consistent with forecasts from other academic researchers and health groups.
“Despite being the first place to be hit by COVID-19, China was able to quickly suppress the disease through stringent measures over an extended period,” said Dr Joseph Unger, the senior author of the paper and a biostatistician and health services researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Seattle.
“Because the Chinese population had been largely shielded from infection with limited natural immunity and was not fully or well vaccinated, the sudden introduction of widespread COVID-19 infection had a devastating impact.”
China’s president Xi Jinping.EyePress News/Shutterstock
In the US, which reported the highest number of COVID deaths during the pandemic, a cumulative 1.1 million adults aged 45 and older died from the virus, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Estimating the number of deaths from COVID has been difficult over the world for a range of reasons including the challenges of diagnosing infections early on in the outbreak and tracking everyone affected during the massive waves that followed.
Experts agree the figures are almost certainly an underestimate in every nation and that it may take years to calculate the true toll.
The estimated number of excess deaths, another way of calculating mortality that compares death rates among the same groups during different periods of time, puts India at the top with 6.2 million deaths, followed by China at 1.9 million, Russia at 1.5 million and the US at 1.3 million.
“The measure of excess deaths reflects both the direct and indirect effects of COVID on a population,” said Dr Unger. “This is important because the true underlying mortality burden of Covid is routinely underestimated by simply counting deaths known to be attributable to Covid itself.”
“Our novel strategy for estimating excess deaths is both timely and important,” the researchers said. “It demonstrates how the strategic combination of data sources can provide insights into seemingly opaque public health research questions.”
The findings come as the COVID-19 “patient zero” was revealed to be a Wuhan scientist carrying out experiments on souped-up coronaviruses.
According to the report, the scientist, Ben Hu, was conducting risky tests at the Wuhan Institute of Virology with two colleagues, Ping Yu and Yan Zhu.
Workers in PPE unload groceries from a truck before distributing them to local residents under the COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai, China.AP
It’s understood all three fell ill with COVID-like symptoms and needed hospital care weeks before China disclosed the virus outbreak to the world.
Several US government officials identified the three scientists in a bombshell report by journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi.
Writing in the Substack newsletter Public earlier this year, they alleged the scientists were experimenting with coronaviruses when they became sick in 2019.
Many experts and intelligence officials have long suspected scientists at the lab accidentally spread COVID-19 during so-called “gain of function” experiments on bat coronaviruses.
The naming of “patient zero” could be the so-called smoking gun – adding to mounting circumstantial evidence of a lab leak.
It’s not clear who in the US government had the intelligence about the sick lab workers, how long they had it, and why it was not shared with the public.
The Sky News host Sharri Markson, who spoke to The Sun about the lab leak theory in 2021, said it marked an “explosive development”.
Jamie Metzl, a former member of the World Health Organisation advisory committee on human genome editing, described it as a possible “game changer”.
“It’s a game changer if it can be proven that Hu got sick with Covid before anyone else,” he said.
“That would be the ‘smoking gun’. Hu was the lead hands-on researcher in (virologist Shi Zhengli’s) lab.”
DRASTIC – an international team of scientists and sleuths attempting to fill in the gaps on Covid-19’s origins – researched the three scientists back in 2021.
– with Imogen Braddick from The Sun