A new study published in the BMJ has revealed that the number of deaths in China—excluding the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan—slightly contracted during the first three months of 2020, indicating that measures to control the spread of the virus reduced deaths from other causes.
In settling on the findings, researchers from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) and the University of Oxford examined official death registry data from January 1 to March 31 last year.
Over that period, the death rate in Wuhan stood at about eleven hundred fifty per hundred thousand, which was 56 percent higher than what was expected. However, outside Wuhan, the death rate was discovered to be six hundred seventy-five per hundred thousand—lower than the expected figure of seven hundred fifteen.
The study’s authors suggested that nationwide lockdowns helped reduce the number of deaths from other major causes like pneumonia and traffic accidents.
“Except in Wuhan, no increase in overall mortality was found during the three months of the COVID-19 outbreak in other parts of China,” they wrote.
“The lower death rates from certain non-COVID-19 related diseases might be attributable to the associated behavior changes during lockdown.”
According to the official data from the CCDC, the total mainland coronavirus death toll is less than forty-seven hundred, of which 83.5 percent, or nearly four thousand deaths, were identified in Wuhan.
Other local research has pointed to the fact that the actual number of people carrying the virus might have been far higher than previously thought.
One recent study conducted by the CCDC, which surveyed more than thirty-four thousand people in April, discovered that roughly half a million residents of Wuhan may have been infected with the virus, a figure that is about ten times higher than what was initially reported.
The tests showed that 4.4 percent of the individuals were found to be carrying the antibodies for the coronavirus. The presence of such antibodies means that they, at one point in time, had been carriers of the virus.
The CCDC noted that the research was conducted a month after China “contained the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic.”
The study also indicated that the infection rate in Wuhan was significantly higher than in other major cities and provinces. For example, it revealed that only 0.44 percent of Hubei residents were found to be carrying the antibodies.
“Exactly how much we have missed we don’t exactly know, but this gives us an idea that we have missed quite a bit,” Ian Mackay, an associated professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the South China Morning Post.
At the start of the pandemic in January, Wuhan was under a full lockdown and cut off from any outside resources for nearly three months. During this time, world leaders and health officials began questioning when exactly Wuhan and the rest of China knew about this particular disease, often described as a pneumonia-like respiratory illness.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.