China could experience over one million deaths caused by the spread of COVID next year, according to a new projection.
The U.S.-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) announced Friday that Beijing’s decision to abruptly lift restrictions combating its spread could facilitate a rapid spike and spread of the virus, prompting widespread deaths.
A looming infection spike could affect about a third of China’s population and cause approximately 322,000 deaths by April 1, IHME Director Christopher Murray said, according to Reuters.
China previously held some of the world’s toughest COVID restrictions and claimed to have maintained a near-zero death rate since the start of the global pandemic in 2019. China lifted the restrictions earlier this month following riots and public protests.
A surge of more than one million deaths would far surpass China’s total pandemic fatalities, as it officially reports having only 5,235 fatalities over the last three years.
“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 Friday as the IHME projections were published.
For comparison, the United States officially reports having over 1.1 million COVID deaths, which included a stretch from Dec. 2021 to Jan. 2021 where it averaged thousands of deaths per day.
In Europe, the UK reports having just under 200,000 deaths; Italy reports having just over 180,000 deaths; France and Germany report having approximately 160,000 deaths each; and Spain and Portugal report having 116,000 and 25,000, respectively, according to Worldometers.
“Nobody thought they would stick to zero-COVID as long as they did,” added Murray, who said COVID cases eventually rose due to the Omicron variant being more infectious.
The IHME model uses vaccination rates provided by the Chinese government and population metrics to determine how the infection rate increases.
Another prediction model shows a similar number of fatalities, in a more accelerated timeframe.
The lifting of COVID restrictions and simultaneously reopening regions in December 2022 through January 2023 would result in 684 deaths per million people — or 964,000 deaths — during that timeframe, according to a paper released from the University of Hong Kong on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
The paper has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Yet another forecast from researchers at the School of Public Health at Fudan University in Shanghai predicted an unrestricted COVID wave spread would result in 1.55 million deaths in half a year.
Beijing continues to encourage its population be cautious and remain vaccinated and boosted.