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How bad is COVID-19 in China right now? World health experts say they're not getting answers

Elderly patients rest along a corridor of the emergency ward as they receive intravenous drips in Beijing, Thursday. Patients, most of them elderly, are lying on stretchers in hallways and taking oxygen while sitting in wheelchairs as COVID-19 surges in China’s capital Beijing.

Elderly patients rest along a corridor of the emergency ward as they receive intravenous drips in Beijing, Thursday. Patients, most of them elderly, are lying on stretchers in hallways and taking oxygen while sitting in wheelchairs as COVID-19 surges in China’s capital Beijing. (Andy Wong, Associated Press)


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SALT LAKE CITY — China is being criticized for underreporting COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths amid a new outbreak that comes after harsh measures intended to control the spread of the virus were suddenly stopped.

Concern is coming from the World Health Organization, as well as world leaders including President Joe Biden, about the accuracy of the information provided by China now that the government has scrapped its "zero COVID" policy.

The issue was raised Wednesday at a briefing by the United Nations agency in Switzerland, Reuters reported.

"We believe the current numbers being published from China underrepresent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, particularly in terms of death," Mike Ryan, WHO's emergencies director, said.

WHO believes the Chinese government's definition for death is "too narrow," Ryan said, according to the news agency, adding, "We still do not have complete data."

No more than five deaths a day from COVID-19 have been reported by China, Reuters said, since last month's decision to drop tough quarantine and other restrictions after protests rocked the country.

That official death toll has been described as "impossibly low" as funeral homes and hospitals in China are being overwhelmed and more than a million deaths from the virus are being predicted among the country's more than 1.4 billion people.

Less than 33,000 people in China have died from COVID-19 during the three years of the pandemic, according to WHO. That's compared to nearly 6.7 million deaths worldwide, including more than 1 million in the United States.

December is also when China changed how deaths are classified as COVID-19 related to include only those from pneumonia or respiratory failure caused by the virus. WHO says any "clinically compatible illness" that leads to death in a COVID-19 patient should count.

Biden spoke briefly about how China is handling COVID-19 data with reporters Wednesday.

"They're very sensitive ... when we suggest they haven't been that forthcoming," the president said. Last week, the Biden administration said travelers coming to the U.S. from China would need a negative COVID-19 test. Other countries have done the same.

China responded Thursday to the criticism. China's "epidemic situation is controllable" and WHO is getting COVID-19 data, the nation's foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, told reporters in Beijing, according to a Reuters report.

"Facts have proved that China has always, in accordance with the principles of legality, timeliness, openness and transparency, maintained close communication and shared relevant information and data with the WHO in a timely manner," Mao said.

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