Epidemic forecasting provides an opportunity to predict geographic disease spread and counts when an outbreak occurs and plays a key role in preventing or controlling their adverse impact. However, conventional prediction models based on complex mathematical modelling rely on the estimation of model parameters, which yields unreliable and unsustainable results. Herein, we proposed a simple model for predicting the epidemic transmission dynamics based on nonlinear regression of the epidemic growth rate and iterative methods, which is applicable to the progression of the COVID-19 outbreak under the strict control measures of the Chinese government. Our model yields reliable and accurate results as confirmed by the available data: we predicted that the total number of infections in mainland China would be 91 253, and the maximum number of beds required for hospitalised patients would be 62 794. We inferred that the inflection point (when the growth rate turns from positive to negative) of the epidemic across China would be mid-February, and the end of the epidemic would be in late March. This model is expected to contribute to resource allocation and planning in the health sector while providing a theoretical basis for governments to respond to future global health crises or epidemics.