- State media say serious illness from COVID is rare
- Chinese scientists are to inform the WHO
- China’s factory activity shrinks in December
BEIJING, Jan 3 (Portal) – China’s state media on Tuesday downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 wave that swept the country, and its scientists are expected to give the World Health Organization a briefing on the evolution of the virus later that day.
China’s abrupt reversal in COVID controls on Dec. 7 and the accuracy of its case and mortality data have come under increasing scrutiny at home and abroad, prompting some countries to impose travel restrictions.
The policy change followed protests against the “zero-COVID” approach championed by President Xi Jinping, which represented the strongest display of public opposition in his decade presidency and coincided with China’s slowest growth in nearly half a century.
As the virus continues to spread unchecked, funeral homes are reporting a surge in demand for their services, and international health experts are predicting at least a million deaths in the world’s most populous country this year.
China reported three new COVID deaths on Monday, up from one on Sunday. The official death toll since the pandemic began is now 5,253.
In an article Tuesday, People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, quoted several Chinese experts as saying the illness caused by the virus is relatively mild for most people.
“Serious and critical diseases account for 3 to 4 percent of infected patients currently admitted to certain hospitals in Beijing,” Tong Zhaohui, vice president of Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital, told the newspaper.
Kang Yan, head of West China Tianfu Hospital of Sichuan University, said a total of 46 seriously ill patients were admitted to intensive care units in the past three weeks, accounting for about 1% of symptomatic infections.
More than 80% of people living in southwestern Sichuan Province have been infected, local health authorities said.
The World Health Organization on Friday urged China’s health authorities to regularly share specific and real-time information on the COVID situation.
The agency has invited Chinese scientists to present detailed virus sequencing data at a technical advisory group meeting scheduled for Tuesday. It has also asked China to share data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.
The European Union has offered free COVID vaccines to China in a bid to contain the outbreak, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.
EU government health officials will hold talks on Wednesday about a coordinated response to the outbreak in China, the Swedish EU presidency announced on Monday.
The United States, France, Australia, India and others will require mandatory COVID testing for travelers from China, while Belgium said it will test sewage from planes flying out of China for new COVID variants.
China has dismissed criticism of its COVID data, saying any new mutations could be more contagious but less harmful.
“According to the political logic of some people in Europe and the United States, whether China opens or not is also wrong,” state-run CCTV said in a comment late Monday.
As Chinese workers and shoppers fall ill, concerns mount over the outlook for growth in the world’s second largest economy, weighing on Asian equities.
Data on Tuesday showed China’s factory activity fell more sharply in December as the COVID surge disrupted production and hit demand.
December shipments from Foxconn’s iPhone plant (2317.TW) in Zhengzhou, which was disrupted late last year by a COVID outbreak that led to workforce shortages and unrest, accounted for 90% of the company’s original plans, a source said with direct knowledge of the matter.
A “bushfire” of infections in China in the coming months is likely to hurt its economy this year and hurt global growth, International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said.
“China is entering the most dangerous weeks of the pandemic,” warned analysts at Capital Economics.
“Authorities are now making almost no effort to slow the spread of infection, and with migration beginning ahead of the Lunar New Year, all parts of the country not currently affected by a major COVID wave will soon be affected.”
Mobility data suggested economic activity was subdued across the country and likely to remain so until the wave of infections subsides, they added.
China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism said the domestic tourism market recorded 52.71 million trips during the Lunar New Year holiday, which was flat year-on-year and just 43% of the pre-pandemic 2019 level.
The generated revenue was over 26.52 billion yuan (3.84 billion U.S. dollars), up 4% year on year but accounting for only about 35% of the revenue generated in 2019, according to the ministry.
Expectations are higher for China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, later this month, when some experts believe daily COVID cases have already peaked in many parts of the country. Some hotels in the southern tourist resort of Sanya are fully booked for the period, Chinese media reported.
Reporting from the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Letter from Marius Zaharia; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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