February 1, 2023

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China vows ‘final victory’ over Covid as the outbreak worries the world

  • The virus spread rapidly in China after a policy shift
  • Japan will require pre-boarding tests from Chinese arrivals
  • European Union meeting to discuss Chinese travel policy
  • WHO seeks data from Chinese scientists

BEIJING (Reuters) – Global health officials struggled to establish the realities of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China and how to prevent further spread, as the party’s mouthpiece newspaper on Wednesday rallied the public for “final victory” over the virus.

China’s reversal of its strict virus restrictions last month unleashed COVID on the 1.4 billion people who have little natural immunity after being protected from the virus since it emerged in the central city of Wuhan three years ago.

Many funeral homes and hospitals say they are overwhelmed. International health experts predict at least 1 million deaths in China this year, but China has reported five or fewer deaths per day since the policy shift.

“It’s completely absurd,” said a 66-year-old Beijing resident who gave only his last name, Zhang, of the official death toll.

“Four close relatives of mine have passed away. This is just from one family. I hope the government can be honest with people and the rest of the world about what really happened here.”

China has dismissed foreign skepticism about its statistics as politically motivated attempts to discredit its achievements in fighting the virus.

“China and the Chinese people will surely win the final victory against the epidemic,” said the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, in an editorial, refuting criticism of China’s three years of isolation, lockdowns and testing that sparked historic protests late last year. general.

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After restrictions are lifted, Beijing is responding to some countries requiring visitors from China to show COVID tests before departure, saying the rules are unreasonable and lack scientific basis.

Japan has become the latest country to require a negative test before boarding a flight, joining the United States, Australia and others. European Union health officials are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss a coordinated response to travel to China.

Willie Walsh, president of IATA, the world’s largest airline association, criticized what he called reckless measures that he said had proven ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID.

China, which has been largely cut off from the world since the pandemic began, will stop requiring inbound travelers to quarantine from January 8, but will still require incoming passengers to be tested before starting their journeys.

data uncertainties

World Health Organization officials met with Chinese scientists on Tuesday amid concerns about the accuracy of Chinese data on the spread and evolution of the outbreak.

The UN agency had called on scientists to provide detailed data on viral sequences, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

The WHO spokeswoman said the WHO would release information about the talks at a later date, possibly at a news conference on Wednesday.

Last month, Reuters reported that the World Health Organization had not received data from China on new hospitalizations for the coronavirus since Beijing’s policy shift, prompting some health experts to wonder if it was covering up the extent of the outbreak.

China reported five new deaths from Covid on Tuesday, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, which is very low by global standards.

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Britain-based health data company Airfinity said around 9,000 people in China likely die each day from COVID.

There were chaotic scenes at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital as patients, many of them elderly, crowded into space on Tuesday in halls crammed between makeshift beds as people used ventilators and were given intravenous drips.

A Reuters witness counted seven hearings in the parking lot of Shanghai’s Tongji Hospital on Wednesday. Workers were seen carrying at least 18 yellow bags used to transport the bodies.

booking boom

With the COVID turmoil causing China’s $17 trillion economy to slow to its lowest growth in nearly half a century, investors are now hoping for stimulus policy.

China’s yuan hovered at a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday, after China’s finance minister pledged to intensify fiscal expansion. The central bank also signaled more policy support.

UBS analysts expect the “big bang” approach to reopening to lead to a “deeper but shorter setback” for the economy, but they also forecast that activity will rebound from February.

Despite new restrictions in some countries, interest in traveling abroad is reviving, according to Chinese media.

State-run China Daily, citing data from travel platform Trip.com, said international flight bookings rose 145% year-on-year in recent days.

Before the pandemic, global spending by Chinese tourists exceeded $250 billion a year, but the number of flights to and from China is still a fraction of pre-COVID levels.

Thailand expects at least five million Chinese to arrive this year. More than 11 million Chinese visited Thailand in 2019, nearly a third of its total visitors.

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But there are already signs that increased travel from China could cause problems abroad.

South Korea, which began testing travelers from China on Monday, said more than a fifth of its test results had tested positive.

Authorities there were looking for a Chinese national who tested positive for the virus but who disappeared while awaiting quarantine.

Additional reporting by Alessandro Divigiano, Bernard Orr and Liz Lee in Beijing; Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Hyunhee Shin in Seoul, Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Written by John Geddy and Marius Zaharia; Edited by Robert Purcell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.