COVID-19 patients lie on hospital beds in the lobby of the Chongqing No. 5 People’s Hospital in China’s southwestern city of Chongqing on 23 December 2022/Noel Celis/AFP.

BEIJING, CHINA — China will no longer publish daily figures for Covid-19 cases and deaths, the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Sunday, ending a practice that began in early 2020.

Cities across China have struggled with surging infections, and a resulting shortage of pharmaceuticals and overflowing hospital wards, after Beijing rapidly dismantled its zero-Covid strategy.

“From today, we will no longer publish daily information on the epidemic,” the NHC said, without giving an explanation for its policy shift.

But the end of strict testing mandates has made caseloads virtually impossible to track, while authorities have narrowed the medical definition of a Covid death in a move experts say will suppress the number of fatalities attributable to the virus.

“The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will publish information about the outbreak for reference and research purposes,” the NHC said, without specifying the type or frequency of data to be published by the CDC.

People in China, who are seeing a large discrepancy between official statistics and infections within their families and social circles, greeted the decision with cynicism.

“Finally, they are waking up and realising they can’t fool people anymore,” wrote one user on the social network Weibo.

Another user said: “This was the best and biggest fake statistics manufacturing office in the country.”

Crematorium workers interviewed by AFP have reported an unusually high influx of bodies.

“Are there crematorium workers here? Are you overloaded? Can you talk about it?” another Weibo user wrote.

While state media has largely ignored the surge of bodies arriving at crematoriums, they have, to some extent, said hospitals are under stress from an influx of patients and a shortage of anti-fever drugs.

Official statistics have also been undermined by the new methodological shift, under which only people who have died directly from Covid-related respiratory failure are counted as being killed by the virus.

China has announced only six Covid-19 deaths since its pandemic restrictions were lifted.

But in a rare acknowledgement this week, a senior health official in the eastern city of Qingdao was quoted by the media as saying half a million people are being infected daily.

— AFP

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