China: End of zero COVID policy saw excess deaths explode

China saw 1.87 million more deaths than usual in the 2 months following the end of its zero COVID policy, according to a new study in JAMA Network Open.

After the initial outbreak, China’s dynamic zero COVID strategy kept deaths from COVID-19 very low in comparison to the rest of the world.

According to the World Health Organisation, China had a little more than 30,000 deaths from COVID-19 on 28 November 2022, while the US, with under a quarter of the population, had recorded over a million.

The strategy, which included tight restrictions, mass testing and strict quarantine measures, ended in December 2022. Since then, the Chinese government reported approximately 60,000 COVID-19 deaths up to 12 January 2023.

According to this study, done by US researchers, there were 1.87 million “excess” deaths in December 2022 and January 2023 among people over 30 – that is, 1.87 million more deaths than would be expected, given normal mortality trends.

The researchers examined obituary data from 3 Chinese universities, alongside data from the Baidu search engine, from 1 January 2016 to 31 January 2023.

They used this data to find the estimated change in mortality among people over 30, recording a mortality change in every Chinese province except Tibet.

“The pattern of excess deaths was consistent with Chinese government reports that COVID-19–related hospitalisations and deaths in hospitals achieved its peak at the end of December 2022,” write the researchers in their paper.

“These findings are important for understanding how the sudden propagation of COVID-19 across a population may impact population mortality,” they conclude.

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