Sunday, December 25, 2022

China: NHC (National Health Commission) Will No Longer Release Daily COVID Figures


In China, politically sensitive news is viewed as a national security problem, and they routinely use their government websites and tightly-controlled state media to either bury, `sanitize', or  otherwise `strategically release' problematic information.

This policy led to the disastrous SARS-CoV cover-up of 2002-2003, chronic late reporting of H7N9 cases over the past decade (see Tracking H7N9: A Game Of Very Incomplete Information), the under reporting of ASF in 2018-2019, and the delays in admitting they were dealing with a communicable disease outbreak in Wuhan in 2019.

Since early 2020, China's NHC has provided daily updates of COVID cases, and deaths, on their website, and while the numbers provided have been highly suspect - particularly regarding the number of COVID deaths - they have been somewhat useful in revealing where outbreaks were occurring. 

Beginning in early December - following massive protests across the Mainland against the Zero-COVID policies of the government - Beijing announced Modified COVID Testing & Mitigation Rules, 

Almost immediately, COVID, which had been rising steadily for more than a month under the more draconian rules, took off a rocket. 

While anecdotal reports from the Mainland suggested hundreds of thousands of new cases were occurring each day on the Mainland (including hundreds of deaths), the NHC - by changing reporting criteria (see NHC To No Longer Report `Asymptomatic' COVID Case Counts), was able to report dramatically falling numbers of cases.

Five days ago, after the number of COVID deaths apparently surged, Beijing announced Only Respiratory Failure Due to COVID to Be Counted As A COVID Death.  

Yesterday the NHC reported 4,128 new confirmed cases, and 0 new deaths, even as a steady stream of cell phone videos and media reports painted a dramatically different story; showing hospital wards overwhelmed, people being treated on the sidewalks outside of hospitals, and crematoriums running 24/7. 

Overnight - without giving a reason - the NHC posted a one-line notice (see translation below), stating they would no longer be publishing daily COVID information. 

Release time: 2022-12-25

From now on, daily epidemic information will no longer be released, and relevant epidemic information will be released by the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reference and research.

While the loss of (to put it charitably) - `low confidence' data  - from the NHC is hardly earth-shattering, it is telling that things are so bad in China right now that even they have given up on trying to spin it.  At this point, Beijing probably doesn't have a very good handle on the situation. 

Two weeks ago, in Flying Blind In The Viral Stormwe looked at the lack of surveillance and reporting - both in China, and around the globe - and the very real risk of being blindsided by another pandemic virus. 

While China is an obvious flash point, the next public health crisis could just as easily emerge from the Middle East, Russia, Europe, South America, or - as it did with H1N1 in 2009 - from our own back yard. 

And if COVID taught us anything, it is that we'd better be ready for it when it happens.