Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that data from China shows that the country hasn’t found a new coronavirus variant, but it also under-represents how many people have died in the country’s rapidly spreading outbreak.

Since Beijing abruptly reversed its “zero Covid” policy, global concern has grown regarding the accuracy of China’s reporting of an outbreak that has overwhelmed some funeral homes and filled hospitals.

A day after WHO officials met Chinese scientists, the UN agency was releasing data provided by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Single-digit daily Covid deaths have been reported in China.

The WHO’s emergency director, Mike Ryan, told a press conference that the numbers being published from China underrepresented hospital admissions, ICU admissions, and “especially in terms of death.”

People wearing protective masks cross a street as China returns to work despite continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks in Shanghai, China, January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said that the UN agency was still looking for China to provide more frequent and rapid data on hospitalizations and deaths.

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

The official newspaper of the Communist Party, China’s People’s Daily, attempted to refute criticism of its strict isolation policy that led to rare protests last year by rallying concerned citizens in support of what it called a “final victory” over Covid-19.

The virus has been unleashed on China’s 1.4 billion people as a result of Beijing’s sudden removal of those extremely stringent restrictions last month. The virus had been shielded in the Chinese city of Wuhan for three years before spreading there.

More and more nations are implementing measures such as pre-departure Covid tests for arrivals from China, which Beijing has criticized. As a result, health officials around the world have been struggling to determine the scope of the outbreak and how to prevent its spread.

On Wednesday, health officials from the European Union will meet to talk about how to respond to it together.

Patients lie on beds next to closed counters at the emergency department of Zhongshan Hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Staff

Funeral homes overwhelmed

Based on WHO data, China’s CDC analysis revealed that Omicron lineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 dominated locally acquired infections.

Based on recent genomic sequencing, the dominant variant is Omicron, which confirms what scientists had already said but temporarily puts an end to concerns that a new variant might emerge.

However, international health professionals anticipate at least one million Covid-related deaths in China this year, and many Chinese funeral homes and hospitals report being overwhelmed.

Since the policy change, China has reported five or fewer deaths per day.

Zhang, a Beijing resident of 66 years old who used only his last name, commented on the official toll, “That is totally ridiculous.”

People wearing protective masks walk in a shopping district as China returns to work despite continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks in Shanghai, China, January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song

“I lost four close relatives. That comes from a single family. I hope the government will tell the truth about what really happened here to the people and the rest of the world.

State media reported that the Chinese cabinet said on Wednesday that it would increase medicine distribution to meet demand from medical facilities, nursing homes, and rural areas.

Beijing has reacted angrily to some nations’ demands that visitors from China submit to pre-departure Covid tests, claiming that the regulations were unreasonable and lacked a scientific foundation.

These tests are required in Japan, the United States, Australia, and a few European states.

The International Air Transport Association’s head, Willie Walsh, criticized such “knee-jerk” measures that, he claimed, had not previously stopped the spread of a virus that had hammered airlines recovering from the pandemic.

On January 8, China will no longer require travelers to enter quarantine, but they will still need to be tested prior to their arrival.

Tuesday’s five new Covid deaths in China brought the official death toll to 5,258, a low number by global standards.

A woman wearing a protective mask and a face shield walks along in a shopping district as China returns to work despite continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks in Shanghai, China, January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song

Airfinity, a British company that collects health data, has estimated that Covid is likely claiming the lives of approximately 9,000 people each day in China.

On Tuesday, many elderly patients at Shanghai’s Zhongshan hospital were crammed into hallways between makeshift beds, many of whom were using oxygen ventilators and intravenous drips.

On Wednesday, a witness for Reuters counted seven hearses in the parking lot of Shanghai’s Tongji hospital. At least 18 yellow bags used to transport bodies were seen being carried by workers.

In the wake of the Covid disruptions, China’s $17 trillion economy has grown at its slowest rate in nearly 50 years.

However, Finance Minister Liu Kun’s promise to accelerate fiscal expansion on Wednesday pushed the yuan to a four-month high against the dollar. Support has also been mentioned by the central bank.

Source: Reuters




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