China's Ministry of Civil Affairs has come under scrutiny for failing to release data on the number of cremations that occurred in the country at the end of 2022. This omission has obscured a crucial indicator that could have shed light on the impact of the wave of COVID-19 infections sweeping the nation during that time.

The exclusion of the national cremation figures from recent data reports highlighted the lack of comprehensive information on fatalities during China's mass COVID-19 outbreak, which began after the abrupt lifting of stringent pandemic controls, according to CNN.

Over the past decade, the ministry's quarterly reports consistently included the annual number of cremations in the fourth quarter data. However, the absence of this data now points to the lack of transparency surrounding the true number of COVID-19-related deaths during that period.

Experts believe that China's official death toll significantly underestimated the actual number of virus-related fatalities. The government's claim of a "major and decisive victory" over the pandemic has been met with skepticism, as the outbreak overwhelmed crematoriums, strained hospitals and exposed shortcomings in the country's pandemic response.

Cremation data plays a crucial role in determining excess deaths and providing more accurate information on the toll of the virus. Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that comparing the number of cremations during this period with previous years could have allowed researchers to estimate excess deaths caused by COVID-19.

The absence of this data suggested that the number of excess deaths may be significant, according to Huang.

When approached for comment, the Ministry of Civil Affairs did not respond to CNN's request.

Throughout the pandemic, China faced criticism regarding its data transparency, including how it counts COVID-19 deaths. The country's initial narrow definition of COVID-19 deaths raised concerns of underrepresentation.

Although China revised its criteria later, the figures still only included individuals who tested positive for the virus and died in hospitals, excluding deaths at home or in certain lower-level health facilities.

The exclusion of cremation data and the broader issue of data transparency raised doubts about China's official narrative regarding the success of its COVID-19 response amid speculations about the virus' origins.

The lack of accurate information does not bode well for future releases of vital data. China's credibility has been questioned previously, and the omission of crucial data adds to concerns surrounding the country's handling of the pandemic.

It remains uncertain whether China plans to release the national cremation data at a later date.