The World Health Organization (WHO) called out China for not representing the true COVID-19 situation in its country after meeting with Chinese officials last week.

“We believe that the current numbers being published from China under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters this week.

Ryan noted that many countries have been seeing lags in reporting hospital data of new infections. He also acknowledged China’s changed definition of a coronavirus-caused death. The country now only counts a case as COVID-19 death when the patient succumbed to respiratory failure due to the viral infection and not because they tested positive for the virus before or after their death. This led the country to report fewer than 20 Covid deaths in the past two weeks, according to CNN.

At a media briefing in Geneva Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus implored China to give out reliable data on local hospitalizations and deaths in its territory to better assess and understand the situation.

“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” he said.

Ghebreyesus continued, “WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease, and death.”

On the same day, the Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) met to review the latest scientific evidence on the new SARS-CoV-2 variants and the Covid situation in China. During the meeting, scientists from the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented genomic data from locally-acquired COVID-19 cases.

Based on the data presented by Chinese scientists, the omicron lineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 were the predominant strains among the locally-acquired infections in China. The two accounted for 95.7% of local cases based on genomic sequencing done on more than 2,000 genomes collected and sequenced from Dec. 1, 2022.

Last Friday, the WHO arranged a high-level meeting with Chinese health officials to discuss the current situation in China. The health agency stressed the importance of monitoring and timely tracking of cases to help China and the rest of the global community asses the risks and form effective responses to the surge.