Daily new COVID-19 infections in China are believed to have reached several hundred million based on figures released by regional authorities, amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus since the government significantly relaxed its strict antivirus measures earlier this month.
Zhejiang Province in eastern China said Sunday the number of new daily COVID-19 cases in the area has topped 1 million and that the figure is expected to double around the turn of the year.
The eastern port city of Qingdao and the major southern city of Dongguan have each said daily new infections have reached 500,000 and up to 300,000, respectively.
Amid criticism that the government's official COVID-19 infection data have not been reflecting the reality on the ground, the National Health Commission delegated Sunday the task of releasing the numbers of infections and deaths to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an institution under its wing.
The center said China confirmed 2,940 new infections and no deaths as of Saturday. The commission, which had been making the data public since January 2020, did not provide reasons for the transfer of the task, and stressed that the figures will be offered "for study and reference."
In the week from Dec. 16, only seven deaths were reported by the commission. Since China on Dec. 7 drastically eased its "zero-COVID" policy involving lockdowns, the authorities have stopped requiring that people take frequent PCR tests and have ceased releasing data on asymptomatic cases.
People with chronic illnesses who die from deteriorating health following a coronavirus infection may not be included in China's official death count based on a government notice, according to local media reports.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has recently expressed concerns about the current COVID-19 situation in China and has called for more information.
U.S. media Radio Free Asia has said the cumulative number of coronavirus infections in China between Dec. 1 and last Tuesday reached 248 million, accounting for some 18 percent of the total population, based on a health commission document leaked online.
The leaked minutes of a health commission meeting on Wednesday showed cumulative infection rates have exceeded 50 percent in Beijing and Sichuan Province in the southwest.
British medical research firm Airfinity Ltd. also estimated Thursday that the daily COVID-19 death toll in China now probably tops 5,000.