After China relaxed the world’s most stringent COVID-19 restrictions in December, the virus exploded. Hints of the surge were everywhere: Hospitals turned away patients. Crematories were overwhelmed with bodies. A wave of top scholars died.
But China’s official Covid death toll for the entire pandemic remains strikingly low: 83,150 people as of Feb. 9. That number is a vast undercount, researchers believe, in part because it only includes infected people who died in hospitals, excluding anyone who died at home.
The official figure is “certainly an underreport of all COVID deaths,” said Yong Cai, a demographer and associate professor in the sociology department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies mortality in China. “There’s no question about that.”