In February, China declared a “decisive victory” for its handling of COVID, citing its low mortality rate when compared to other countries. An official count from the government puts the total death toll at 83,150 (as of Feb. 9), which would give China the lowest death rate per capita of any other major country: six deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the U.S.’s 337 and the U.K.’s 307.
But researchers who have been studying the pandemic say that China has vastly undercounted its deaths from the disease. Reporting from the New York Times rounded up four separate academic studies looking at China’s most recent COVID wave that accelerated after the government relaxed its Zero-COVID restrictions in December. They all pointed to similar results: That wave may have killed between one million and 1.5 million people.
While there is no way to confirm China’s official count, researchers say that the way officials counted deaths was incomplete as it only accounted for those who died in the hospital, not those who died at home. Noting gaps in the data, many epidemiologists, such as those from Fudan University in Shanghai, developed models based on previous outbreaks to determine how the virus might spread across China’s population.
“If the data say what we think they say, this was an explosive wave,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of biology and statistics at the University of Texas at Austin, told The New York Times.