After China’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions were abruptly lifted following unprecedented protests under the Xi Jinping regime, the U.S.-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has projected that the lifting of curbs could result in an explosion of cases and over a million deaths through 2023.
The group’s projections stated that cases in China would peak around April 1, when deaths would reach 322,000. By then, about a third of China’s population will have been infected, IHME Director Christopher Murray said, as reported by news agency Reuters.
This projection comes as China’s national health authority is yet to report any official COVID deaths since the lifting of Coronavirus curbs. The last official deaths were reported on December 3. The country’s total pandemic fatalities stand at 5,235.
Beijing lifted some of the world’s most stringent COVID restrictions in the month of December after unprecedented public protests that rocked the capital city with protesters even raising slogans against Xi, calling for free speech and democracy.
The country has been experiencing a spike in infections, now there are fears that the infection could spread across its 1.4 billion population during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.
“Nobody thought they would stick to zero-COVID as long as they did,” Murray said on Friday when the IHME projections were released online, as quoted by Reuters.
He mentioned that while the zero-COVID policy could have been effective at containing the spread of earlier variants, the high transmissibility of Omicron variants made it impossible to sustain it.
The IHME is an independent modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle and has been relied on by governments and companies throughout the pandemic.
For its latest projection, the group drew on provincial data and information from a recent omicron outbreak in Hong Kong.
“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, as per Reuters.
For its forecasts, IHME also used the information on vaccination rates provided by the Chinese government along with assumptions on how various provinces will respond when infection rates rise.