Why China’s Covid Wave Worries

A Covid-19 patient at the People’s Hospital in Fengyang, China. Noel Celis/AFP

Misleading data, sketchy estimates and doubts about the emergence of new options: China is currently facing the worst wave of Covid in the world after the lifting of restrictions, causing concern in many countries.

Unreliable data

Beijing has acknowledged this: since phasing out large-scale population screening with PCR tests last month, quantifying infections in its territory has become “impossible.” The National Health Commission (NHC), which has the status of a ministry, has stopped publishing daily data on morbidity and mortality. Now it is the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Authorities have recently changed the criteria for attributing death to Covid. Thus, since the restrictions were lifted on December 7, the country of 1.4 billion people has recorded only 15 such deaths. Which raises doubts about the ability of official Chinese figures to reflect reality, while hospitals and crematoria are overflowing with an influx of Covid patients and victims.

The authorities acknowledged that they had collected “much less” data compared to the period during which large-scale tests were conducted.

To “fill in the gaps” in the statistics, authorities are relying on online surveys, hospital visits, requests for fever medicines and emergency calls, according to disease control spokesman Yin Wenwu.

Many countries, including the US, Australia and Canada, cite the lack of transparency of Chinese data to justify their decision to introduce PCR tests for travelers from China.

Parcel ratings

Some local authorities have begun to release data, including the province of Zhejiang (east), which borders Shanghai, which last week estimated that there are a million new cases every day. The city of Qingdao (east) reported 500,000 new daily cases of infection, the city of Dongguan (south) – 300,000. Authorities in the island province of Hainan (south) on Friday estimated the infection rate of residents at more than 50%, while the cities of Quzhou and Zhoushan (East) estimated that at least 30% of their population had contracted Covid.

One of the country’s leading epidemiologists, Wu Zunyu, said on Thursday that the peak took place in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu (southwest) and Tianjin (north).

In Shanghai, the epidemic “may have affected 70% of the population, or 20 to 30 times more” than during the previous outbreak in the spring of 2022, Ruijin Hospital Vice President Chen Erzhen said in a blog linked to People’s Daily.

It is difficult to put together all these partial data in order to form a complete picture of the situation in the country. Figures leaked from a public health meeting last month show 250 million infections in the first 20 days of December. Independent forecasts are pessimistic. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong predict that nearly a million Chinese could die from the virus this winter.

British medical analytics firm Airfinity, which estimates the number of daily deaths in China at 11,000 and 1.8 million infections per day, expects 1.7 million deaths by the end of April.

New options?

Many countries are concerned about possible new options and are conducting tests for travelers arriving from China. However, no new strain of Covid-19 has been found. According to Xu Wenbo, spokesman for the CDC, a new national database of hospital samples is being prepared.

The Omicron BA.5.2 and BF.7 sub-variants remain dominant in Beijing in response to concerns that the more dangerous Delta variant is still circulating, he said. Omicron is located in Shanghai.

Many Western countries are dominated by the XBB and BQ sub-variants, which are more transmissible but do not yet dominate China.

Last month, China submitted 384 Omicron samples to Gisaid’s global database, according to its website. But the total number of samples from Beijing since the beginning of the epidemic (1,308) remains much lower than those from other countries such as the US, UK, Cambodia or Senegal.

According to Gisaid, recent specimens brought from Beijing “strongly resemble variants known and circulating around the world between July and December.”

Virologist Jin Dong-yang of the University of Hong Kong recently said in a podcast that the likelihood of a more deadly variant in China remains “very low”.

Laurie CHEN/AFP

Source: L Orient Le Jour

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