Satellite images of Chinese crematoriums and funeral homes hint at Covid outbreak’s true toll

Chinese officials reject criticism of the data they have provided and say the true death toll will become clearer after analysis of “excess deaths.”

Dr. Liang Wannian, an epidemiologist and senior adviser to the Chinese government, said Wednesday that the priority at the moment should be treating severe cases.

Until the pandemic is over, “it is impossible to identify the exact death rate,” he said at a news conference in Beijing.

He also defended the way China determines whether a death was Covid-related — counting only those that involve respiratory failure — a definition the WHO has criticized as too narrow.

There is no global consensus on how to define Covid deaths, Liang said, “so each country has their own individual way of calculating.”

China briefed all WHO member states on its Covid outbreak last week, and has provided additional information on its response, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead.

“However, there are some very important information gaps that we are working with China to fill,” she said at a news briefing on Wednesday.

Citing the lack of data on China’s outbreak, the United States and other countries have imposed restrictions on travelers from China in recent weeks. Beijing calls the measures unscientific, excessive and discriminatory, taking the first of its promised countermeasures on Tuesday with the suspension of short-term visas for citizens of South Korea and Japan.

Japan has lodged a protest to China over the suspension, while South Korea says its Covid border measures are based on science and that China’s response is “very regrettable.”

China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, who is visiting Ethiopia, told Phoenix TV in an interview Wednesday that the South Korean and Japanese restrictions had hindered China’s personnel exchanges with the two countries, “so we, the Chinese side, have a reason to respond.”

Olivia Guan, Angie Ling and Eric Baculinao contributed.

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