A senior health official says that nearly 60,000 people have died in hospitals from Covid-19-related illnesses since China abandoned its zero-Covid policy last month.
Some 5,500 deaths were caused by respiratory failure directly due to the virus, and the rest by underlying conditions combined with the virus, according to Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration under the National Health Commission (NHC).
Just over half the deaths were among those at least 80 years old, the least vaccinated section of society, and 90% were accounted for by those 65 years old and up..
Hitherto, Beijing has counted only directly caused deaths, a reporting practice that the World Health Organisation criticised as too narrow.
The latest number is thus a vast increase from previously reported figures, which total just over 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began, one of the lowest death rates in the world. Neither set includes deaths that may have occurred at home.
Jiao also said that emergency hospitalisations for Covid-19 have peaked, and the number of hospitalised patients continues to decline.
However, all the informal indications are that the virus is rampant across the country, particularly in rural areas. With travel around the Lunar New Year holiday due to start on January 21, infection rates could surge sharply in small towns and rural areas in the next couple of weeks.
Independent health forecasters expect at least 1 million Covid-related deaths in China this year.