- Virus spreads rapidly in China after U-turn policy
- UN Quick access to agency and other data
- Recent data from China’s CDC shows Omicron is dominant
- Many countries require pre-boarding checks from Chinese visitors
- EU officials meet to coordinate China travel policy
BEIJING, Jan 4 (Reuters) – Data from China shows no new coronavirus variant has been detected there, but it also understates how many people have died in the country’s fast-spreading outbreak, World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday.
Global unease has grown over the accuracy of China’s reporting on the outbreak, which has filled hospitals and overwhelmed some funeral homes since Beijing abruptly reversed its “zero COVID” policy.
The UN agency released the data provided by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a day after WHO officials met with Chinese scientists. China reports daily COVID deaths in single figures.
Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, told a media briefing that the current numbers released from China understated hospital admissions, ICU admissions and “especially in terms of deaths”.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency continues to seek prompt and regular data from China on hospitalizations and deaths.
“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe illness and death,” he said.
China’s People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, has sought to rally concerned citizens in what it calls a “final victory” against COVID-19, rejecting criticism of the strict isolation policy that sparked rare protests last year.
Beijing abruptly lifted those ultra-tough restrictions last month, unleashing the virus on China’s 1.4 billion people, who have little immunity after being protected since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan three years ago.
Health officials abroad are scrambling to contain the outbreak and contain its spread, and several countries have introduced such pre-departure COVID tests for those arriving from China, moves criticized by Beijing.
EU health officials are meeting on Wednesday to discuss a coordinated response.
The houses of death are overflowing
According to the WHO report, CDC analysis of China showed a predominance of omicron lineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 in locally acquired infections.
Omicron is the dominant variant based on recent genome sequencing, which confirms what scientists have already said, but now allays concerns about a new variant emerging.
However, many Chinese funeral homes and hospitals say they are overwhelmed, and international health experts predict at least 1 million COVID-related deaths in China this year.
China has recorded five or fewer deaths per day since the policy U-turn.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Zhang, a 66-year-old Beijing resident who gave only his last name, said of the official count.
“Four of my close relatives are dead. It’s just one family. I hope the government will be honest with the people and the rest of the world about what really happened here.”
China’s cabinet on Wednesday stepped up drug supplies to meet demand from medical institutions, nursing homes and rural areas, state media reported.
Beijing has hit back at some countries that require visitors from China to show pre-departure Covid tests, saying the rules are unfair and have no scientific basis.
Countries requiring such tests include Japan, the United States, Australia and several European countries.
Willie Walsh, head of IATA, the world’s largest airline union, criticized such “knee-jerk” measures, which he said had not previously stopped the spread of the virus, which had hammered airlines recovering from the pandemic.
China will stop quarantining incoming travelers from January 8, but they will have to be tested before arrival.
China recorded five new COVID deaths on Tuesday, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, very low by global standards.
Airfinity, a UK-based health data company, estimates that around 9,000 people die of Covid every day in China.
Patients at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital, many of them elderly, were crammed into halls on Tuesday between makeshift beds equipped with oxygen ventilators and intravenous drips.
A Reuters witness counted seven bodies in the parking lot of Shanghai Dongji Hospital on Wednesday. Workers were seen carrying at least 18 yellow bags used for moving bodies.
China’s $17 trillion economy has grown at its slowest pace in nearly half a century amid COVID disruptions.
But the yuan hit a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday after Finance Minister Liu Kun pledged to accelerate fiscal expansion. The central bank has also expressed support.
Reporting by Alessandro Diviggiano, Bernard Orr and Liz Lee in Beijing; Brenda Ko in Shanghai, Hyeonhee Shin in Seoul and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; By Marius Zaharia and Edmond Blair; Editing by Robert Birsal, William Maclean and John Stonestreet
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