China could see over a million deaths from the spread of COVID next year, according to a new forecast.
The US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) announced Friday that Beijing’s decision to abruptly lift restrictions to combat its spread could allow for a rapid rise and spread of the virus, leading to widespread deaths.
A looming infection surge could affect about a third of China’s population and cause about 322,000 deaths by April 1, IHME director Christopher Murray said, according to Reuters.
China has previously had some of the toughest COVID restrictions in the world and has claimed to have maintained a near-zero death rate since the global pandemic began in 2019. China lifted restrictions earlier this month following riots and public protests.
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A rise of more than a million deaths would far exceed China’s total number of pandemic deaths, as it officially reports that there have been just 5,235 deaths over the past three years.
“China has reported hardly any deaths since the original Wuhan outbreak. So we looked to Hong Kong to get an idea of the death rate from infections,” Murray said on Friday when the IHME forecasts were released.
For comparison, the United States is officially reporting over 1.1 million COVID deaths, including a stretch from 2021-14 to 2021-01, where there were an average of thousands of deaths per day.
In Europe, the UK reports nearly 200,000 deaths; Italy reports just over 180,000 deaths; France and Germany each report about 160,000 deaths; and Spain and Portugal are reporting 116,000 and 25,000 respectively, according to Worldometer.
“No one thought they would stay with zero-COVID for so long,” added Murray, who said COVID cases eventually spiked because the Omicron variant was more contagious.
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The IHME model uses immunization rates and population metrics provided by the Chinese government to determine how the infection rate is increasing.
Another prediction model shows a similar number of deaths in a faster time frame.
Lifting COVID restrictions and simultaneously reopening regions in December 2022 to January 2023 would result in 684 deaths per million people — or 964,000 deaths — over that period, according to a paper released Wednesday by the University of Hong Kong, Reuters reported.
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The paper has not yet been reviewed.
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Another forecast by researchers at Fudan University’s School of Public Health in Shanghai predicted that unrestricted spread of the COVID wave would lead to 1.55 million deaths in half a year.
Beijing continues to encourage its population to be cautious and stay vaccinated and refreshed.