China reports huge rise in COVID-related deaths

STORY: Nearly 60,000 people with COVID have died in hospital since China abruptly dismantled its zero-COVID policy in early December.

A steep increase from previously reported figures that follows global criticism of the country's coronavirus data.

Between December 8 and January 12, the number of COVID-related deaths in Chinese hospitals totalled 59,938 with an average age of 80.3 among the deceased, Jiao Yahui, an official from the National Health Commission (NHC) told a news conference on Saturday.

Of the patients who died, 90.1% were aged 65 and older.

Despite the numbers, Jiao also said that COVID fever and emergency hospitalizations have peaked in China.

And that the number of hospitalized COVID patients is continuing to decline.

"The ratio of people tested positive at fever clinics is also declining steadily, peaking at 33.9% on Dec.20, and is down to 10.8% on Jan. 12. This trend indicates that the peak of fever clinics has passed."

Authorities had been reporting five or fewer deaths a day over the past month.

Figures that seem inconsistent with the long queues seen at funeral homes and body bags seen leaving crowded hospitals.

While international health experts have predicted at least 1 million COVID-related deaths this year, China had previously reported just over 5,000 since the pandemic began, one of the lowest death rates in the world.