Your Thursday Briefing: 1.5 Million Covid Deaths in China?

How deadly was China’s Covid wave?

After China relaxed the world’s most stringent Covid-19 restrictions in December, the virus exploded there. Four separate academic teams have come up with broadly similar estimates suggesting that one million to 1.5 million people died during the surge, far more than China’s official count.

Researchers believe that the country’s official figure, as of Feb. 9, of 83,150 deaths during the entire pandemic is a vast undercount. That number would give China the lowest death rate per capita of any major country over the whole of the pandemic.

But at the researchers’ estimated levels of mortality, China would already have surpassed the toll in many Asian countries that never clamped down as long or as aggressively. The estimates also align more closely with the evidence of overwhelmed hospitals and crematories than the official figures do.

Two of the estimates were in papers published in academic journals or posted for peer review. Two others were shared by epidemiologists in response to queries from The Times. All of the researchers consulted by The Times cautioned that without reliable data from China, the estimates should be understood as informed guesses.

Official data: China has a narrow definition of what counts as a Covid-19 death. The official toll includes only infected people who died in hospitals, and not those who died at home. Around one-fifth of all deaths in China happened in hospitals from 2018 to 2020.

Details: Some used past outbreaks in Hong Kong and Shanghai to estimate how quickly the virus might have spread in mainland China. Others used travel data and demographics to model spread and mortality. Scientists also used sampling data from China’s testing to infer that 90 percent of the population had been infected in little more than a month.

U.S. comparison: One researcher started with a simple assumption, that the fatality rate for people infected in China was roughly the same as it was in the U.S. That means that if between 40 and 65 percent of China’s population was infected — a conservative estimate — then between 900,000 and 1.4 million Chinese people might have died, he said.

India’s aviation boom

Air India ordered a record 470 planes from Boeing and Airbus, a sign of the post-pandemic rebound in global aviation and India’s expanding airline business.

Covid-19 in China

The decision by the Chinese government to cast aside its restrictive “zero Covid” policy at the end of 2022 set off an explosive Covid outbreak.

The country’s government is planning to build 80 new airports over the next five years. Boeing has projected that passenger traffic in the country will increase 7 percent annually over the next two decades.

The deals are part of an ambitious overhaul by the Tata Group, the powerhouse conglomerate that took control of Air India about a year ago. It is planning to buy 220 jets from Boeing and 250 from Airbus, with deliveries expected to start late next year.

“The number is record-breaking not only in India but anywhere,” an airline consultant said. “India is a massive market, and there is a lot of growth potential.”

Reaction: President Biden said the Boeing order would support more than one million U.S. jobs and reflected strong ties with India. President Emmanuel Macron of France also welcomed the deal with Airbus. 

Scotland’s leader resigns

In a surprise move, Nicola Sturgeon said she would step down as first minister, saying she was exhausted after eight years on the job and worn down by the “brutality” of political life.

She was the second high-profile leader in less than a month to say that exhaustion contributed to a decision to step down, echoing Jacinda Ardern’s unexpected resignation as prime minister of New Zealand.

Sturgeon’s abrupt departure removes one of the most visible figures from British politics and perhaps the most outspoken advocate for Scottish independence. In recent weeks, Sturgeon had become embroiled in a dispute over the Scottish government’s policy on gender recognition.


Asia Pacific

China accused the U.S. of flying balloons over Xinjiang and Tibet.

The captain of the Thai soccer team that survived a cave rescue in 2018 has died in England at 17. The cause of death was unclear.

New Zealand is under a state of emergency after Cyclone Gabrielle caused severe flooding. 

The War in Ukraine

Russia’s losses during weeks of fighting in a city in eastern Ukraine have renewed questions about its ability to sustain a large-scale offensive. One cemetery shows the scope of the losses.

Both sides are going through ammunition at a staggering rate, according to Western officials.

A U.S.-backed report found that Russia had relocated 6,000 Ukrainian children to camps in Russian territory.

The Earthquake

Thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey rushed to the border after officials said they would be allowed to go home, and to return.

The death toll rose to more than 35,000 in Turkey and surpassed 5,500 in Syria.

Other Big Stories

Camilla will not wear the crown that has the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which was taken from India in the 1840s, to King Charles III’s coronation in May.

The U.S. is on track to add nearly $19 trillion to its national debt over the next decade, $3 trillion more than previously forecast.

Jobs cuts at YouTube, Meta and Twitter are weakening efforts to combat disinformation.

A Morning Read

The Green Zone, once a leafy upper-middle class neighborhood in Kabul, used to be an enclave for diplomats. Now, the Taliban have moved in and are making it their own. Officials live in abandoned homes, and young men study at a madrasa opened in a former British embassy compound.

The Green Zone is becoming the latest vestige of the Western war effort to be repurposed by the Taliban as they build up their own military and government.


Climate-friendly design

One Vanderbilt is the rare skyscraper in Manhattan designed with climate change in mind. It has a self-contained, catastrophe-resilient power plant, and it captures all of its rainwater, which it uses to heat or cool its 9,000 daily visitors.

But, just a few years after design work was completed, in 2016, some of the building’s most important features are already out of date. For one thing, it burns natural gas, which is falling out of favor in New York City. In recent years, the city banned fossil fuels in new buildings. And its new energy code could change how existing buildings are required to manage pollution, perhaps at a high cost.

One Vanderbilt exposes the challenges of green design. The energy-policy landscape is rapidly evolving. That means that even the most ambitious attempts at sustainability often face the possibility of needing to retrofit the moment the elevator doors open.


What to Cook

French toast and kimchi grilled cheese make a surprising and joyous lunch option.

What to Read

In “The Laughter,” an aging, white English professor lusts after his younger, Pakistani colleague.

What to Watch

A Bosnian coming-of-age film and a Filipino meta-comedy are among our picks for international movies this month.

Where to Go

Five chefs and culinary experts suggest 25 essential dishes to eat in Paris.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: “My bad” (four letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. My colleague Edward Wong wrote about how a reporting trip to China was scuttled by the spy balloon.

“The Daily” is about Microsoft’s new search engine.

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