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British Medical JournalCOVID-19: Leaked Cremation Data Hint at True Scale of China’s Death Rate

Is China Underreporting Its COVID-19 Death Toll?

Recent data leaked from China’s Zhejiang province suggests that the country’s official death count from the COVID-19 pandemic may be significantly lower than the actual number. The withdrawn cremation figures, when compared with past years, indicate a potentially drastic increase in deaths, reinforcing global suspicions about the transparency of China’s pandemic reporting.

Key Points:

  • In Zhejiang province, cremations for Q1 2023 totaled nearly 171,000, a substantial increase from 99,000 in Q1 2022 and 90,000 in Q1 2021.
  • An extrapolated 72% rise in mortality across China equates to approximately 1.5 million excess deaths in Q1 2023, aligning with epidemiological predictions.
  • Traditionally, cremation data for Q1 is released in September. However, for Q4 2022, amid a surge in infections, cremation numbers were conspicuously absent.
  • Zhejiang’s data release, which has since been removed, was noticed by international researchers before its deletion.

Additional Points:

  • Ben Cowling, from the University of Hong Kong, stated that this data might indicate that almost 90% of China’s population was infected during the “exit wave” in December and January, resulting in an estimated 1.5 million deaths.
  • Reports in December described overwhelmed crematoriums in Chinese cities with staff handling two to three times their usual workload.
  • China resumed death reporting in February, noting 83,150 deaths from the pandemic’s onset. However, this number only increased by around 550 subsequently, despite previous national figures totaling just 5,272 since the pandemic began.


  • With factors like high vaccine uptake in Zhejiang and additional data from other provinces, the actual death toll in China might be even higher than the suggested 1.5 million.

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“We believe that the current numbers being published from China underrepresent the true impact of the disease, in terms of intensive care admissions and particularly in terms of deaths.”

Mike Ryan
WHO Emergencies Chief
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