Just over one month ago, China finally dropped its zero-COVID measures. Since then there have been multiple reports that Chinese hospitals, funeral parlors and crematoriums have been overwhelmed. Thursday NBC News reported that you could see the crowds at Chinese crematoriums from space:

Satellite images taken over multiple cities in China show heightened activity outside crematoriums and funeral homes, appearing to contradict the country’s low official Covid-19 death figures and illustrating the severity of the outbreak in the world’s most populous country.

The images, taken by the Colorado-based space technology company Maxar in late December and early January and shared with NBC News, show a parking lot has been built since early December at a funeral home in Tongzhou, on the outskirts of Beijing, the capital.

Other images from cities around the country show a greater number of cars parked outside funeral homes compared with similar periods in past years.

Despite all of this evidence, China has stubbornly and stupidly continued to claim only a few dozen deaths from COVID over the past month. In fact the official death toll for the entire pandemic going back to December 2019 was 5,272 as of the more recent update last weekend. Today the total was suddenly revised by just a bit:

China on Saturday made a significant revision of its official death toll in the latest outbreak of the coronavirus — to nearly 60,000 deaths linked to covid-19 since December, when pandemic restrictions were lifted and infections surged across the country, up from just 37…

The National Health Commission said in a news briefing that hospitals recorded at least 59,938 covid-19-related deaths between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12. Of those deaths, 5,503 involved respiratory failure caused by the virus, and the rest of the deaths were caused by underlying diseases combined with covid-19. The average age of patients who had died was 80.3 years old.

China had previously reported just 37 deaths between Dec. 7 and Jan. 8, the last date that the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported daily figures. As of Jan. 8, China’s CDC reported a total of 5,272 deaths since the pandemic began.

Naturally, China’s health authorities had an excuse for this sudden jump:

Ms. Jiao said China was unable to release the data on Covid-related deaths sooner because it required a comprehensive examination of hospital reporting.

“We organized experts to conduct a systematic analysis on the death cases, so it took a long time,” Ms. Jiao said.

It’s a step in the right direction but experts were quick to add that China is still undercounting by a lot.

Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the actual death toll in China, like that in every country, was almost certainly higher. He said that China could have provided more reliable data on death and infection rates if it had tested hospital patients more vigorously.

“The one thing which is a bit surprising is that China has so much testing capacity but hasn’t been using it to confirm Covid in hospitalized patients,” Mr. Cowling said.

A group based at Peking University has estimated that 900 million people in China (64% of the population) have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic. But a British research company called Airfinity has put forward a more specific estimate of infections and deaths.

Airfinity is forecasting COVID-19 infections to reach their first peak in China on the 13th January with 3.7 million cases a day.

Deaths are estimated to peak 10 days later at approximately 25,000 a day, by that stage a total of 584,000 since the virus began surging across the country in December. We predict 1.7 million deaths across China by the end of April 2023.

Airfinity’s model is based on data from China’s regional provinces, before changes to reporting infections were implemented, combined with case growth rates from other former COVID-zero countries when they lifted restrictions such as Hong Kong and Japan.

Airfinity expects to see a second peak in infections in early March as the virus spreads into rural areas. As that 2nd peak resolves the death toll will reach the predicted 1.7 million. That’s quite a bit higher than the US death toll which is now about 1.1 million but obviously China’s population is more that four times as large. So on a percentage basis they could still claim bragging rights based on these figures. But of course they won’t admit to anything like this. In fact, today’s admission could be a one time correction. We’ll have to wait and see but the truth about COVID doesn’t come out of China very often.

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