China on Wednesday reported no COVID-19 deaths over the previous 24 hours and 3,049 new domestic infections after changing the criteria for recording deaths from the virus.
New government rules only count those who died directly of pneumonia or respiratory failure caused by the virus as COVID deaths in the statistics. Previously, people who died of an illness while infected with the virus were counted as a COVID death.
"At present after being infected with the omicron variant, the main cause of death remains underlying diseases. Old people have other underlying conditions, only a very small number die directly of respiratory failure caused by infection with COVID," Wang Guiqiang of Peking University First Hospital said during a press conference on Tuesday.
Cases rise after restrictions lifted
China lifted its zero-COVID policy of lockdowns, quarantines, and mass testing. However, the sudden decision has left hospitals struggling, and medicines are in low supply. In Beijing, long waiting times and high fees were reported at cremations.
Crematorium workers across the country said they were struggling to keep up with the number of deaths, the AFP news agency reported.
Out of the seven deaths reported since lifting the zero-COVID policy, one was removed from the official tally on Wednesday.
China's Global Times newspaper cited Wang as saying that the death toll may spike soon. He expects the wave to peak in late January.
"The new definition is a reversal of the international norm adopted since mid-April during the Shanghai outbreak, which counts a covid death as anyone who died with COVID. It is hard to say this is not politically driven," Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations told AFP.
The US has raised concern over the rise of cases in China. Neighboring India has also stepped up surveillance due to the rise in cases.