More than a month after China started seeing an exponential surge in Covid cases, the country has only reported two virus deaths, bucking the experience of other, more vaccination and better resourced places as they reopened and fueling suspicion the true scale of deaths is being hidden.

Beijing has seen shortages of medicine, overwhelmed hospital staff and deserted streets since the abandonment of Covid Zero. As they shifted from eliminating Covid to living with it, other places experienced the same thing.

A patient on a stretcher is moved by staff next to a fever clinic of a hospital in Shanghai on Dec. 18.

China reported its first deaths since the dismantlement of Covid Zero. The country has only declared 11 Covid deaths since November 19th, which is more than a week after the government made its first tentative steps towards easing the policy.

William Schaffner is an infectious disease expert at the medical school in Tennessee. A rise in Covid-related deaths is usually preceded by a rapid increase in infections.

Older people in China have under-vaccinated their population. We keep interpreting data from China with a grain of salt.

According to reports on the ground, Beijing is seeing a wave of deaths, with crematorium workers and relatives suggesting many people have died of Covid.

There were daily deaths per million people for seven days.

The data is from our world in data.

The National Health Commission said last week that everyone who tests positive for Covid at their death is considered a virus.

The death toll in China is lower than in many other countries.

There were more than six deaths per one million people in South Korea when omicron hit. Australia and New Zealand saw deaths rise to three per-million a day at the peak of an outbreak. Singapore had a gradual shift away from quashing all cases and experienced an increase in deaths.

The deadliest outbreak in the world at one point was recorded in Hong Kong, and the city reported its first deaths in February. The city said the virus was spreading in the area. Over 10,800 people have died of Covid this year in the financial hub, compared to China's official death tally of over 5,000.

The low mortality rate is in line with China's own experience. The first Covid deaths were reported in mid-April, less than three weeks into a brutal two-month citywide lock down. The outbreak had killed more than 500 people by the end of May.

It is in China's interests to obscure or downplay the death toll.

China's low death toll and containment of Covid has been cast as proof of the superiority of the Communist system by the government. One top health adviser said that the virus could even be called a cold. After securing a third term in October, the president is looking to cement his power and install a group of new leaders.

COVID-19 Outbreak In Hangzhou
Residents of Hangzhou line up at a pharmacy in Zhejiang province, on Dec 19.

The evidence shows that China is going for a more severe exit than other ex-covid zero countries.

Older people are a concern. China's elderly are extremely under-vaccinated and it is difficult to convince them that they need to be protected. Only 40% of people over the age of 80 had received a booster by late November, despite a recent push to inoculate them.

There are 93 million shots in two months.

The assistance was given byDong Lyu andClaire Che.

(Updates with more on the experience of other ex-Covid Zero countries from eighth paragraph.)