Leaked notes from top health officials in China have uncovered the true horror of the latest COVID-19 outbreak, as experts warn that almost 250 million people in China may have been infected with the virus in the first 20 days of December alone. After Chinese President Xi Jinping lifted his stringent “Zero Covid” restrictions following a mass wave of protests, Covid cases in China have appeared to skyrocket, with reports emerging of bodies piling up in morgues while experts warn millions of deaths are on the way. Earlier this week, WHO Director-General and public health expert Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the global health body was “very concerned” by the rise in cases.
The situation in China may be even direr than previously thought, an internal estimate from the nation’s top health officials notes that almost 250 million people in China may have been infected with COVID-19 in the first 20 days of December, according to reports from Bloomberg News and the Financial Times.
If this estimate turns out to be accurate, it means that roughly 18 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people have been infected, representing the largest outbreak of the virus to date globally.
According to the reports, these figures were presented during an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the matter or involved in the meeting.
Meanwhile, the NHC summary of the meeting said that it had looked into the treatment of patients who have been affected by the new outbreak of the virus.
China has spent the overwhelming majority of the last two years cleaving to a “zero-Covid” policy which saw the strict application of public health measures like lockdowns, quarantines, mass testing and closure of businesses, schools, shops and other public amenities.
However, in the face of growing backlash from an increasingly exasperated public and significant impacts on the national economy, Beijing officials abruptly ended the majority of the measures earlier this month.
The move has seen case numbers soar with reports that hospitals in the capital and city beyond are filling up with new Covid patients. Experts fear the mortality rate among senior citizens, who are more vulnerable to severe infection.
According to the reports, a staggering 37 million people, or over half the population of the UK, were newly infected with COVID-19 on Tuesday alone, which is in significant contrast to the official figures, which reported 3,049 new infections that day.
READ MORE: China’s explosive Covid wave may spark ‘deadly’ variant
Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong told CNN: “The numbers look plausible, but I have no other sources of data to compare [them] with. If the estimated infection numbers mentioned here are accurate, it means the nationwide peak will occur within the next week.
China’s official death count of eight has been slammed amid reports the country’s crematoriums have become overwhelmed over the past month since the restrictions were eased.
One funeral shop worker reportedly told journalists that crematoriums are simply overwhelmed by bodies, saying: “They work day and night, but they can’t burn them all.”
Experts predict that this latest wave could cause anywhere between a million and two million deaths in the next year, as the WHO warned the Chinese government, that their method of counting would “underestimate the true death toll”.