China could end up witnessing more than a million Covid deaths by 2023 if it decides to stay with its decision of lifting the stringent coronavirus regulations, a new projection from a US-based institute has claimed.
According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), by April 1, China could register 322,000 deaths, when the Covid cases peak.
“Nobody thought they would stick to zero-COVID as long as they did,” IHME Director Christopher Murray said on Friday when the IHME projections were released online, reports Reuters news agency.
Beijing decided to ease its stringent Covid restrictions in December following unprecedented public protests.
Ever since the curbs were lifted, China has been experiencing a spike in infections, with fears that the virus could infect all of its 1.4 billion population during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.
Moreover, it has not recorded any Covid deaths since lifting of the restrictions. The last official deaths were reported on December 3. Total pandemic fatalities stand at 5,235.
The IMHE believes that the emergence of highly-transmittable Omicron variants has rendered China’s zero-Covid policy ineffective, and hence Beijing decided to lift the restrictions.
The group, which is present at the University of Washington in Seattle, based its projections by relying on provincial data and information from a recent Omicron outbreak in Hong Kong.
“China has since the original Wuhan outbreak barely reported any deaths. That is why we looked to Hong Kong to get an idea of the infection fatality rate,” Murray said.
The IHME also used information on vaccination rates provided by the Chinese government as well as assumptions on how various provinces will respond as infection rates increase for its forecasts.
Meanwhile, Chinese officials are looking to provide booster vaccines for the vulnerable sections even as the government remains pessimistic about the use of vaccination of foreign vaccines.
On Friday, China’s National Health Commission said that it was ramping up vaccinations and building stocks of ventilators and essential drugs.
(With inputs from agencies)