China pledges ‘final victory’ over Covid as outbreak raises global alarm

Global health officials scrambled to determine the facts of China’s raging Covid-19 outbreak and how to prevent further spread as the government’s mouthpiece newspaper rallied citizens for a “final victory” over the virus on Wednesday.

China’s lifting of its strict virus restrictions last month unleashed covid on a population of 1.4 billion who have little natural immunity having been protected from the virus since it emerged in their hometown of Wuhan three years ago.

Funeral homes have reported a surge in demand for their services, hospitals are overflowing with patients and international health experts predict at least a million deaths in China this year.

But officially, China has reported a small number of Covid deaths since the U-turn policy and downplayed concerns about a disease it previously strove to eradicate through massive lockdowns, even as the rest of the world opened up.

“China and the Chinese people will surely win the final victory against the epidemic,” Chinese Communist Party spokesman the People’s Daily said in an editorial, refuting criticism of its tough anti-virus regime that sparked historic protests late last year. .

As it now rolls back those restrictions, China has been particularly critical of some countries’ decisions to require a Covid test on their citizens, saying they are unreasonable and lacking scientific basis.

Japan became the latest country to require pre-departure Covid tests for travelers from China, following similar moves by the United States, Britain, South Korea and others.

Health officials from the 27-member European Union will meet on Wednesday to discuss a coordinated response to travel to China. Most European Union countries favor pre-departure Covid tests for visitors from China.

China, which has been largely isolated from the world since the pandemic began in late 2019, will stop requiring incoming travelers to self-quarantine from January 8. But it will continue to require arriving passengers to be tested before beginning their journeys.

doubt about data
Meanwhile, World Health Organization officials met with Chinese scientists on Tuesday amid concerns about the accuracy of China’s data on the spread and evolution of its outbreak.

The UN agency had invited scientists to submit detailed data on viral sequencing and share data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

The WHO would release information about the talks later, likely at a briefing on Wednesday, its spokesman said.

The spokesperson said earlier that the agency expected a “detailed discussion” about the variants circulating in China and around the world.

Last month, Reuters reported that the WHO had not received data from China on new Covid hospitalizations since Beijing’s policy change, leading some health experts to question whether it might be hiding the extent of its outbreak.

China reported five new deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday, up from three the day before, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, very low by global standards.

But the number of victims is widely believed to be much higher. Britain-based health data firm Airfinity has said some 9,000 people in China are likely to die every day from covid.

There were chaotic scenes at Shanghai’s Zhongshan hospital where patients, many of them elderly, competed for space on Tuesday in crowded corridors between makeshift beds where people used oxygen ventilators and received intravenous drops.

With Covid disruptions slowing China’s $17 trillion economy to its lowest growth in nearly half a century, investors are now hoping policymakers will step in to counter the slide.

China’s yuan swung to a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday after its finance minister vowed to step up fiscal expansion this year, days after the central bank said it would implement more policy support for the economy. economy.

Despite some countries placing restrictions on Chinese visitors, interest in overseas travel from the world’s most populous country is rising, state media reported.

International flight bookings from China have risen 145 percent on-year in recent days, the state-run China Daily reported, citing data from travel platform Trip.com.

The number of international flights to and from China is still a fraction of pre-Covid levels. The government has said it will increase flights and make it easier for people to travel abroad.

Thailand, a major destination for Chinese tourists, expects at least 5 million Chinese arrivals this year, its tourism authority said on Tuesday.

More than 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019, nearly a third of its total visitors.

But there are already signs that an increase in travel from China could pose problems abroad.

South Korea, which began testing travelers from China for Covid on Monday, said more than a fifth of test results were positive.

Authorities were searching Wednesday for a Chinese national who tested positive but disappeared while awaiting quarantine. The person, who was not identified, could face up to a year in prison or fines of 10 million won ($7,840).

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