A patient receives treatment at Peking University Third Hospital on January 3, 2023 in Beijing, China.

A patient receives treatment at Peking University Third Hospital on January 3, 2023 in Beijing, China. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

China officially updated its COVID death toll numbers Saturday, linking nearly 60,000 deaths to COVID-19 since early December, the Associated Press reports, citing the country's top health leaders.

Why it matters: These official numbers — which are likely smaller than the actual tally — doubles China's official COVID death toll since the disease was first discovered there in 2019, per AP.

Driving the news: China's National Health Commission released a new COVID-19 death count from this winter when a surge of cases slashed through the country.

By the numbers: China reported 5,503 deaths from respiratory failure caused by COVID-19 and 54,435 fatalities from underlying medical conditions combined with the virus since early December, AP reports.

  • That's up from the 37 fatalities reported between Dec. 7 and Jan. 8, according to the Washington Post.
  • These numbers double China's official COVID-19 death toll to 10,775, per AP.
  • The country previously reported only 5,272 deaths from COVID since the pandemic began, the Washington Post reports.

Yes, but: The NHC said the “deaths related to COVID” happened in hospitals, leaving open the possibility that more people died at home, AP reports.

What they're saying: The country said that the peak of the recent outbreak has likely passed.

  • "The number of fever clinic visitors is generally in a declining trend after peaking, both in cities and rural areas," said Jiao Yahui, an official from the National Health Commission, per Reuters.

The big picture: China has been shy about releasing its full COVID-19 data and the actual death and case numbers might be higher. The country stopped reporting COVID-19 death data after lifting its COVID-19 rules and restrictions in December.

  • Soon after the rules lifted, China saw a COVID "tsunami" as more deaths occurred. But at the time, China's official health authority did not report new official COVID deaths. The last fatality had been reported on Nov. 23.

More from Axios:

China's COVID storm

China to stop reporting asymptomatic COVID cases

China battles rising COVID-19 cases after easing precautions

China travel: More countries impose COVID requirements

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