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China Had 1.87 Million Excess Deaths After Ending “Zero COVID” Policy

China COVID deaths

During the COVID-19 pandemic, China implemented a “zero COVID” policy that focused on the idea of keeping numbers of SARS-CoV-2 infections as close to zero as possible. To try to achieve that target, the Chinese government implemented stringent social distancing measures, such as ordering strict citywide lockdowns, mass testing and mandatory quarantining of sick people in government facilities.1

In December 2022, China ended its zero COVID policy after large protests by its citizens.2 A 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open found that after China ended its zero COVID policy in December 2022, there was a huge surge in SARS-CoV-2 infection cases, hospitalizations and deaths.3

The Chinese government reported that approximately 60,000 COVID–related deaths occurred in health care facilities in China between December 2022 and January 12, 2023. However, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington estimated that 1.87 million excess deaths occurred in China during the first two months after the government ended the  zero COVID policy.

The Elderly Died in Greater Numbers After China Ended “Zero COVID” Policy

Excess deaths occurred mostly among older individuals in all provinces in China. Although the number of excess deaths estimated by the researchers significantly exceeded official Chinese government estimates of 60,000, the pattern of excess deaths was consistent with Chinese government reports that COVID–related hospitalizations and deaths in hospitals achieved its peak at the end of December 2022.4

The researchers used data published by three universities in two cities in China and also used data found using the Chinese Baidu search engine for deaths of people over 30 years old by any cause in the areas where the universities were located. The researchers noted that the study does have a limitation of relying on obituary data for employees from three universities in Beijing and Heilongjiang which could have resulted in an overestimation of excess mortality because university employees were older than the general population, or an underestimation because the employees had higher socioeconomic status.5

China’s “Zero COVID” Public Health Policy Failed

Catherine Bennett, PhD, an epidemiologist at Deakin University in Australia said that although the zero COVID policy kept infections low for a long time in China, the strict measures have resulted in people becoming more susceptible to the virus due to lower levels of natural immunity.6

Public health professionals had warned that ending the zero COVID policy would lead to a public health crisis. Focusing on containment and isolation for so many years reportedly has interfered with the population’s acquisition of natural immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.7

Public health professionals have speculated that due to the zero COVID policy, the Chinese population was more vulnerable to the virus than populations in other countries where the virus spread widely over the past few years. Although vaccination rates in China are high at around 90 percent, the virus  infected a very small proportion of the Chinese population due to the implementation of strict containment measures, which slowed down the acquisition of natural herd immunity.8

Strict zero COVID measures also caused multiple tragedies, including deaths caused by delayed or denied healthcare, suicides, food shortages, separation of children from their parents and other physical and mental health problems that had a profound negative effect on individual and public health.9

Wang Yaqiu, a researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that zero COVID policies exacerbated existing social problems in China. She stated:

There are a lot of social problems in normal times to begin with. One is that China lacks an independent judiciary, so your rights can be violated, and if you try to take the government to court, you will definitely lose.” She added that, “Secondly, there is no press freedom, so you can’t go to the media to tell them about some injustice that happened to you, and there is no Internet freedom any more. Under zero-COVID, these social injustices and rights violations get exacerbated.10


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Click here to view References:

1 Voice of America. What Is China’s ‘Zero-COVID’ Policy? Nov. 28, 2023.
2 Mao F. China abandons key parts of zero-Covid strategy after protests. BBC Dec. 7, 2023.
3 Xiao H et al. Excess All-Cause Mortality in China After Ending the Zero COVID Policy. JAMA Network Open 2023; 6(8): e2330877.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Guzman C, Gunia A. China’s Zero-COVID Trap. TIME Dec. 1, 2022.
7 Ibid. 
8
Scott D. China’s health system isn’t ready for the end of “zero Covid”. Vox Dec. 7, 2023.
9 Davidson H. China’s zero-Covid policy explained in 30 seconds. The Guardian Nov. 29, 2022.
10 Wei J. Collateral damage and secondary victims: the social impact of zero-COVID. Radio Free Asia Nov. 11, 2022.

2 Responses

  1. In authoritarian China, increases in authoritarian policies, caused even more harm. What’s new? We in the USA do not answer to the Chinese, or their authoritarian models.

  2. I just don’t understand why China would wreck their economy and kill off their citizens to avoid the inevitable. It makes me wonder is there something about this lab-designed pathogen that they fear? Is there something they know about it that the rest of us do not?

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