China reports huge rise in Covid-related deaths after data criticism

China has announced nearly 60,000 people with Covid-19 have died in hospital since it abandoned its zero-Covid policy last month, a huge increase from previously reported figures.

A computational biologist says Covid-19 deaths in China may actually be up to ten times higher than reported.

University of Auckland Professor David Welch said given the country's population of 1.4 billion people, he expects cases and deaths are likely much higher.

"Looking at comparable countries, maybe Hong Kong or Japan, we'd expect hundreds of millions of cases in China by now.

"Assuming that say 1 in 1000 people who gets Covid - that's a very conservative estimate - dies, that adds up to hundreds of thousands of deaths."

Welch said China's data is also irregular and does not follow the World Health Organisation's standard reporting guidelines.

"We know the hospitals have really been overrun there, so it's possible a lot of people aren't going to hospital.

"Is this all hospital deaths right across China? It's a strange statistic to be reporting."

He said there has also been no mention of recorded case numbers over the same period.

Welch said the most recent sequencing data shows the dominant strain in China is one that has already been widely circulated here.

"A variant that's spreading in China through a naive population is going to pose a lower risk than one that is spreading in Europe or America, where the variant is more focused on immune escape, which is the thing that really threatens us at the moment."