China’s abrupt lifting of stringent COVID-19 restrictions could result in an explosion of cases and over a million deaths through 2023, according to new projections from the U.S.-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
According to the group’s projections, cases in China would peak around April 1, when deaths would reach 322,000. About a third of China’s population will have been infected by then, IHME Director Christopher Murray said.
China’s national health authority has not reported any official COVID deaths since the lifting of COVID restrictions. The last official deaths were reported on Dec. 3.
Total pandemic fatalities stand at 5,235.
China lifted some of the world’s toughest COVID restrictions in December after unprecedented public protests and is now experiencing a spike in infections, with fears COVID could sweep 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.
China’s zero-COVID policy may have been effective at keeping earlier variants of the virus at bay, but the high transmissibility of Omicron variants made it impossible to sustain, he said.
The independent modeling group at the University of Washington in Seattle, which has been relied on by governments and companies throughout the pandemic, drew on provincial data and information from a recent Omicron outbreak in Hong Kong.