May 21, 2024

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The World Health Organization says the COVID data in China does not show a new variant but unreported deaths

The World Health Organization says the COVID data in China does not show a new variant but unreported deaths
  • The virus is spreading rapidly in China after the policy change
  • Un agency and others what is more fast access to data
  • The latest data from the Center for Disease Control in China shows that Omicron is dominating
  • More countries are seeking pre-boarding tests from Chinese arrivals
  • EU officials meet to coordinate Chinese travel policy

BEIJING (Reuters) – World Health Organization officials said on Wednesday that data from China showed no new type of coronavirus was found there, but it also did not represent the number of people who have died in the fast-spreading outbreak in the country.

Global concern has grown about the accuracy of China’s reporting of an outbreak that has filled hospitals and overwhelmed some funeral homes since Beijing abruptly reversed its “zero COVID” policy.

The UN agency was releasing data provided by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a day after WHO officials met with Chinese scientists. China is reporting daily COVID deaths in single digits.

Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, said in a briefing that the current figures being released from China do not underrepresent the numbers of hospital admissions, ICU admissions and “particularly in terms of death”.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency continues to seek more rapid and regular data from China on hospital admissions and deaths.

“The World Health Organization is concerned about the risks to life in China and has reaffirmed the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease and death,” he said.

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China’s People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, has sought to rally anxious citizens to what it calls a “final victory” over COVID-19, refuting criticism of its policy of strict isolation that sparked rare protests last year.

Beijing’s abrupt cancellation of those draconian restrictions last month unleashed the virus on the 1.4 billion people in China, who have little immunity after being protected since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan three years ago.

Overseas health officials are struggling to determine the scale of the outbreak and how to prevent it from spreading, with more countries introducing measures such as pre-departure COVID tests for arrivals from China, steps Beijing has criticized.

European Union health officials are meeting on Wednesday to discuss a coordinated response to it.

Funerary houses are covered

The analysis of the Centers for Disease Control in China showed a predominance of Omicron strains BA.5.2 and BF.7 among locally acquired infections, according to data reported by the World Health Organization.

Omicron is the dominant variant based on recent genetic sequencing, confirming what scientists have already said but allaying fears for the time being about the emergence of a new variant.

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 reported five or fewer deaths per day since the policy shift.

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“It’s absolutely absurd,” said Zhang, a 66-year-old Beijing resident who gave only his last name of the official tally.

“Four close relatives of mine have passed away. This is just from one family. I hope the government can be honest with people and the rest of the world about what really happened here.”

China’s cabinet said Wednesday that it will boost drug distribution and meet demand from medical institutions, nursing homes and rural areas, state media reported.

Beijing has hit back at some countries that have required visitors from China to show COVID tests before departure, saying the rules are unreasonable and lack scientific basis.

Japan, the United States, Australia and several European countries are among the countries that require such tests.

Willie Walsh, president of the world’s largest international air transport association, criticized such “unreasonable” measures, which he said had not previously stopped the spread of the virus that has infected airlines recovering from the pandemic.

China will stop requiring incoming travelers to quarantine from January 8, but they must be tested before arrival.

China reported five new deaths from Covid on Tuesday, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, which is very low by global standards.

Britain-based health data company Airfinity has estimated that around 9,000 people in China likely die each day from COVID.

Patients at Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital, many of them elderly, were crammed into halls on Tuesday between makeshift beds with people using oxygen ventilators and intravenous drips.

A Reuters witness counted seven hearings in the parking lot of Shanghai’s Tongji Hospital on Wednesday. Workers were seen carrying at least 18 yellow bags used to transport the bodies.

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China’s $17 trillion economy grew at its slowest rate in nearly half a century amid the COVID turmoil.

But the yuan was at a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday after Finance Minister Liu Kun promised to intensify fiscal expansion. The central bank also indicated support.

Additional reporting by Alessandro Divigiano, Bernard Orr and Liz Lee in Beijing; Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Hyunhee Shin in Seoul, Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Written by Marius Zaharia and Edmund Blair. Editing by Robert Purcell, William McLean and John Stonestreet

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.