China stops publishing daily Covid figures amid reports of explosion in cases

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) has stopped publishing daily Covid-19 data, amid concerns about the reliability of the figures after infections exploded in the wake of an abrupt easing of tough restrictions.

“Relevant Covid information will be published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention for reference and research,” the commission said in a statement, without specifying the reasons for the change or how frequently China CDC will update the public with new Covid information.

The sudden halt to the reporting of daily infection and death totals comes as concerns grow around the lack of vital information made available since Beijing made sweeping changes to its zero-Covid policy that put hundreds of millions of its citizens under lockdown and battered the world’s second-largest economy.

Despite the record surge of infections, the NHC had reported no Covid deaths nationwide for four consecutive days before halting the data release. Last week China narrowed its definition of a Covid death, counting only those from Covid-caused pneumonia or respiratory failure.

Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that China may be struggling to keep a tally of Covid-19 infections. The WHO has received no data from China on new Covid hospitalisations since Beijing eased its restrictions. The lack of data transparency has made monitoring the scale of this most recent Covid outbreak difficult.

Officially, China has reported fewer than 10 Covid related deaths in the last fortnight but a surge in demand for crematoriums has been interpreted as evidence that the true death-toll is much higher.

British-based health data firm Airfinity last week estimated China was experiencing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths a day.

On Friday a local health official in Qingdao reported the city was seeing “between 490,000 and 530,000” new Covid cases a day. The report was shared by several other news outlets but appeared to have been edited by Saturday morning to remove the case figures.

The country’s healthcare system has been under enormous strain, with staff being asked to work while sick and retired medical workers in rural communities being rehired to help grass-root efforts, according to state media.

Bolstering the urgency is the approach of the lunar new year in January, when huge numbers of people travel across the country.

Reuters contributed to this report