China urges ‘final victory’ over COVID as global concern mounts over spread

Funeral homes are reporting an increase in demand for their services.
China reports a small number of COVID deaths since the policy U-turn.
Most EU countries favor pre-departure testing for Chinese travelers.

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 removal of its strict anti-virus controls last month unleashed COVID on a population of 1.4 billion who have little natural immunity and have been shielded from the virus since it emerged in their hometown of Wuhan three years ago.

Funeral homes have reported an increase in demand for their services and international health experts predict at least one 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 impose a COVID test requirement on their citizens, saying they are unreasonable and lack scientific basis.

Health officials from the 27-member European Union will meet on Wednesday in a coordinated response to address the implications of increased travel from China.

Most European Union countries favor pre-departure COVID tests for travelers from China, the European Commission said Tuesday, following similar measures imposed by the United States, Britain, South Korea and others.

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.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) 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 communicate later, likely at a news conference on Wednesday, its spokesman said after the meeting. 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 withholding information about the extent of its outbreak.

China reported five new deaths from COVID-19 on January 3, up from three the day before, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, very low by global standards.

But the death toll is believed to be much higher. British health data firm Airfinity has said some 9,000 people in China are likely to die every day from COVID.

travel interest
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 increased 145% year-on-year in recent days, government newspaper China Daily reported, citing data from travel booking 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 signs that an increase in travel from China could further spread the virus abroad.

South Korean health authorities, which began testing travelers from China for COVID on Monday, said more than a fifth of test results so far have been positive.

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