Chinese health authorities reported Saturday nearly 60,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in just over a month, amid growing international criticism that Beijing's official data do not reflect the reality on the ground.

Between Dec. 8 last year and Thursday, the COVID-related death toll reached 59,938, according to China's National Health Commission. Beijing significantly relaxed its antivirus measures on Dec. 7, in an abrupt departure from its "zero-COVID" policy involving lockdowns and isolation measures.

The newly released death toll does not include those who died at home. On average, the daily count topped 1,600, but it was far lower than the 21,300 estimated by British medical research firm Airfinity Ltd. as of Friday.

File photo shows workers in protective gear placing a body bag in a coffin at a funeral home in Beijing in December 2022. (Kyodo)

The Chinese government had only reported several daily COVID-19 deaths based on its policy of excluding from the country's official death count people with chronic illnesses who die from deteriorating health following a coronavirus infection.

Of the 59,938 deaths, 5,503 were caused by respiratory failure due to the virus infection, while 54,435 resulted from underlining issues complicated by COVID-19 contraction, the health authorities said.

The average age at the time of death was 80.3 years, with about 90.1 percent aged 65 years and above, and about 56.5 percent aged 80 and older, according to state-run media.

The number of people seeking treatment at fever clinics in China peaked on Dec. 23 at about 2.87 million, and the figure has since been in continuous decline, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stopped releasing the daily number of new COVID-19 infections and deaths, with the latest figures posted on its website referring to data as of last Sunday.

The World Health Organization has repeatedly expressed concerns about underreporting of China's COVID-19 death count. A number of countries have tightened their border controls targeting those traveling from China amid a lack of credible data and fears that a new virus variant could emerge in the Asian country.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida urged China "to report adequate transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data regarding the spread" of the coronavirus in a joint statement released Friday following their talks in Washington.

A study by Peking University has estimated cumulative COVID-19 infections in China had reached some 900 million as of last Wednesday, with the figure accounting for 64 percent of the country's population of about 1.4 billion, according to a Chinese media report.

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