Geneva/Beijing, December 23
The World Health Organization has received no data from China on new Covid hospitalisations since Beijing lifted its zero-Covid policy, prompting some health experts to question whether it might be hiding information on the extent of its outbreak.
However, the WHO has said gaps in data might be due to Chinese authorities simply struggling to tally cases.
WHO weekly reports showed rising hospitalisations for Covid-19 in China running up to Beijing’s December 7 decision to ease restrictions on movement that were meant to stamp out any transmission of the virus but which prompted extraordinary public protests and hobbled the world’s second-largest economy.
They peaked at 28,859 through to December 4, according to a WHO graph, the highest reported figure in China since Covid-19 first emerged three years ago, but figures have been absent in the last two reports.
WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said to direct questions about data reporting to the country concerned. China’s diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond to Reuters questions.
China has been routinely accused of downplaying its Covid outbreak and some experts say its narrow criteria for identifying deaths will underestimate the true toll. Some estimates predict large numbers of deaths ahead and China has been racing to bolster its health system.
Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University who follows the WHO closely, called the missing data “highly suspicious”.
“What it tells me is that China is hiding data that are vital for understanding the full impact of its decision to end its zero-Covid strategy,” he told Reuters.
Adam Kamradt-Scott, professor of Global Public Health at the European University Institute, said countries frequently tried to hide the extent of disease outbreaks.
“It’s hard to criticise China when there’s other countries that haven’t reported Covid cases (at all),” he said.
WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan has pointed to possible capacity issues. “I wouldn’t like to say that China is actively not telling us what’s going on. I think they’re behind the curve,” he said.
Global rules on disease outbreaks require countries to communicate information on ongoing outbreaks but they cannot be enforced.