Amid massive uncertainty over deaths due to coronavirus in China, doctors have been asked to avoid mentioning COVID-induced respiratory failure on death certificates. They have instead been asked to mention an underlying health condition as the main cause of death.
The notice accessed by the news agency Reuters said that doctors should contact their superiors if they believe the death was caused by COVID-19 pneumonia and the patient did not have any underlying conditions. In such an event, the superiors will arrange for two levels of “expert consultations” before confirming a COVID death.
The notice came after relatives of those who succumbed to COVID said it was not mentioned on the death certificate as the cause of passing whereas some patients reported not being tested for the contagion despite having respiratory symptoms on arrival.
Even before the notice, doctors in China stopped mentioning COVID deaths in December. A Shanghai-based doctor said, “We have stopped classifying COVID deaths since the reopening in December.” He added that it is a futile exercise since everyone is positive.
A senior emergency room doctor from Shandong said that while doctors were issuing death certificates basis the actual cause of death, how those fatalities get classified is up to hospitals or local officials.
Chinese authorities said nearly 60,000 deaths were reported as of Saturday since December 8. It further said that less than 10 per cent of the total fatalities were caused due to COVID-triggered respiratory failure. The government stated around 5,500 people died of respiratory failure due to COVID-19 while 54,435 people succumbed to cancer, heart disease, and other ailments combined with coronavirus between December 8 to January 12.
Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) and global health experts have sought accurate data vis-a-vis COVID deaths in China and have chastised it for underreporting its fatalities as the pandemic continues to run amok in the world’s second-largest economy. Public health scholar at New Zealand’s University of Otago Micheal Baker said: “By contrast, reported deaths in China are mainly (90 per cent) a combination of COVID and other infections, which also suggests that deaths directly from COVID infection are under-reported in China.”
Professor of public health at the Yale School of Public Health and infectious diseases expert Dr. Albert Ko said that China is using a very narrow definition to classify COVID deaths.
Dr. Ko told the news agency Associated Press: “They have to have respiratory failure… in order to be counted as a case you have to be at a place where they can say you fulfilled all the requirements, and that’s a hospital.”
Senior fellow for global health with New York-situated Council on Foreign Relations Yanzhong Huang mentions that it is unclear whether the data reflect the accurate number of fatalities since the numbers only comprise of deaths that took place in hospitals.
But why is China only recording the deaths in hospitals? The National Health Commission has said that only those deaths that took place in hospitals have to be counted and not those that took place at homes.
(With inputs from agencies)
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