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WHO recommends that China monitor COVID-19 excess deaths

Healthcare workers in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Cangzhou, Hebei Province, China, treat critically ill coronavirus patients. (11 January 2023)
Healthcare workers in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Cangzhou, Hebei Province, China, treat critically ill coronavirus patients. (11 January 2023)

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday (Jan. 16) that it recommended that China monitor excess deaths stemming from COVID-19 to get a fuller picture of the impact of the surge in coronavirus cases in China.

China said on Saturday that nearly 60,000 COVID-19 patients had died in hospitals since it abandoned its “zero” policy last month. The figure is a significant increase from the number of Covid deaths it reported before facing international criticism.

“WHO recommends monitoring excess deaths, which allows us to get a more complete picture of the impact of COVID-19,” WHO told Reuters in a statement when asked about the outbreak in China. “This is especially important during periods of the surge in cases while health systems are under a heavy load.”

WHO added that there is no fixed time for the next meeting with Chinese officials after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke over the weekend with Ma Xiaowei, director of China’s National Health and Wellness Commission, but WHO will continue to work with China to provide advice and support.

After criticizing Beijing for not being candid about the scale of the outbreak, the WHO said on Saturday that Chinese authorities had provided it with information on hospital deaths and outpatient care to better understand the situation.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University School of Law in Washington, D.C., has been closely following the WHO. Gostin said China’s decision to disclose more data was because it was “urged by the WHO.”

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“Getting a more accurate death toll certainly feels like an improvement,” he told Reuters. “But it is more important to obtain complete genetic sequence data (GSD) for the virus circulating in China.” That’s what really is a global concern. “

(This article is based on a Reuters report.)

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