Why Chinas latest wave of Covid has sparked global panic

Why China’s latest wave of Covid has sparked global panic

Why China's latest wave of Covid has sparked global panic

China Covid: Chinese hospitals and crematoria are struggling with an influx of patients and bodies


China is experiencing a huge Covid-19 surge after years of severe containment restrictions were dismantled over the past month.

A growing number of countries are concerned about a lack of data and transparency surrounding the outbreak in China.

Here’s why there’s cause for concern:

Unreliable data

Beijing has admitted the extent of the outbreak is “impossible” to trace after mandatory mass testing ended last month.

The National Health Commission has stopped publishing daily nationwide infection and death statistics.

That responsibility has been shifted to China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which will only release figures once a month after China downgraded its treatment protocols for the disease on January 8.

China has reported just 15 Covid deaths since it began lifting restrictions on December 7 and shortly thereafter narrowed the criteria by which deaths from the virus are recorded.

This has raised concerns that official statistics are not accurately reflecting the wave of infections.

Authorities admitted last week that the amount of data collected is “much smaller” than it was when mandatory bulk PCR testing was in place.

CDC official Yin Wenwu said agencies are now compiling data from hospital and local government surveys, as well as emergency call volumes and fever drug sales, that “make up for deficiencies in our reporting.”

Chinese hospitals and crematoria are grappling with an influx of patients and corpses, with rural areas hit particularly hard.

Several countries, including the United States, Australia and Canada, announced last week that they are imposing testing restrictions on arrivals from China due to a lack of transparency on infection data.

Piecemeal estimates

Last month, some local and regional authorities began sharing estimated daily infection numbers as the extent of the outbreak remained unclear.

Health officials in the affluent coastal province of Zhejiang estimated a million residents were being infected every day last week. The cities of Quzhou and Zhoushan said at least 30 percent of the population had contracted the virus.

The eastern coastal city of Qingdao also estimates around 500,000 new cases daily and the southern manufacturing hub of Dongguan is forecasting up to 300,000.

Officials in the island province of Hainan estimated on Friday that the infection rate there had surpassed 50 percent.

But top health official Wu Zunyou said Thursday the peak had been passed in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu and Tianjin, and Guangdong province — the country’s most populous — said the same on Sunday.

Shanghai’s top infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong has told state media that the mega-city may open again on March 22.

Leaked notes from a meeting of health officials last month showed they believed 250 million people across China had been infected in the first 20 days of December.

Independent infection models paint a bleak picture. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong have estimated that nearly a million Chinese could die this winter as a result of the opening.

And health risk analysis firm Airfinity forecast 11,000 deaths and 1.8 million infections per day, for a total of 1.7 million deaths by the end of April.

New variants?

Many countries have cited concerns about potential new variants as a reason to screen Chinese arrivals for Covid.

However, there is still no evidence of new tribes emerging from the current wave.

Senior CDC official Xu Wenbo said last month that China was developing a national genetic database of Covid samples from hospital surveillance that would help track mutations.

Chinese health experts have said in recent days that Omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7 are the most prevalent in Beijing, in response to public fears that the Delta variant may still be in circulation.

They said Omicron also remains the most dominant variety in Shanghai.

In many Western countries, these strains have been overtaken by the more transmissible subvariants XBB and BQ, which are not yet dominant in China.

Beijing submitted 384 Omicron samples to the global online database GISAID last month, according to its website.

But the country’s total entries into the database, at 1,308, dwarfs those of other nations including the United States, Britain, Cambodia and Senegal.

Recent samples from China “similar to all known globally circulating variants observed between July and December,” GISAID said Friday.

University of Hong Kong virologist Jin Dong-yan said in an independent podcast last month that people need not fear the risk of a deadlier new variant in China.

“Many places around the world have experienced (widespread infections), but a more deadly or pathogenic variant has not emerged after that,” Jin said.

“I’m not saying the emergence of a (deadlier) tribe is entirely impossible, but the likelihood is very slim.”

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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