Chinese officials say that about 250 million people, or 18% of the population, were infected with Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December. This is because Beijing suddenly removed restrictions that had kept the disease in check for almost three years. Sun Yang, a deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, gave the numbers at a health briefing on Wednesday, said two people with knowledge of the situation. He said 37 million people, or 2.6% of the population, got sick on Tuesday alone.
People who knew about the meeting said that Sun said the rate of COVID-19 spread in the country was still rising and that he thought more than half of the people in Beijing and Sichuan were already infected.
Beijing’s decision this month to end its “zero-Covid” policy, which kept the virus at bay through mass testing, mandatory quarantine, and strict lockdowns, led to a huge increase in new cases. Sun’s numbers, given in a meeting behind closed doors, are different from those released by the National Health Commission, which said there were 62,592 cases of Covid with symptoms during the same time period. China stopped counting the total number of infections in public last week after the government stopped Covid testing.
Because there isn’t much official information, Washington and the World Health Organization have been pressuring Beijing to be more open about case counts, disease severity, hospital admission numbers, and other health statistics that other countries have made public. In China’s capital and other cities, the wave of Covid infections has sent a lot of elderly, bedridden patients to hospitals, which are now complete. There aren’t many beds left in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Still, the country has gone ahead with getting rid of the zero-Covid policy, even though the medical costs are rising.
On Saturday, Hong Kong’s top leader, John Lee, said that long-awaited travel between the city and mainland China would start again as soon as the middle of January. “The central government has agreed to reopen the borders in a gradual and orderly way fully,” Lee told reporters after returning from a four-day trip to Beijing, where he met President Xi Jinping. “Families that were split up for almost three years because of the pandemic can be brought back together,” and “Hong Kong’s economy can be boosted.”
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Business chambers and industry leaders in the financial hub have been calling for a full reopening of the border for months. This is because restrictions on movement hurt the territory’s economy, which is expected to shrink by 3.2% this year. The official report from the NHC about the meeting on Wednesday didn’t say much about what the country’s top health officials talked about. But at the meeting, Ma Xiaowei, who is in charge of the NHC, told hospitals that their emergency rooms were too full and that they needed to move patients into inpatient departments. This was said by one of the people who went to the meeting.
He also told medium-sized and large hospitals to take in more people with severe symptoms and promised that regulators would not hold them responsible for rising death rates. On the other hand, the estimate of 250 million cases raised more questions about how accurate the official Covid statistics are and how the government accounts for deaths from the disease. On Saturday, the NHC reported only 4,103 new local cases the day before. For the second day in a row, there were no deaths linked to Covid.
Bloomberg: “China is likely seeing 1 mln Covid cases, 5,000 deaths a day”
“China is likely experiencing 1 million Covid infections and 5,000 virus deaths every day as it grapples with what is expected to be the biggest outbreak the world has ever seen.”
— Sputnik V (@sputnikvaccine) December 23, 2022
On the other hand, Hong Kong had 20,460 new local cases in the past 24 hours, which was reported on Saturday. Pandemic Recommended Coronavirus “We have no beds, and we don’t have any air”: Covid makes Beijing’s hospitals very busy. Since December 1, China has only officially reported eight deaths.
DISGUSTING—US government is preparing to drastically reduce fight against #COVID19 even as an explosive wave in China is raising fresh concern in WH. Congress’s new bill has no new funds for #COVID vaccines, testing, treatments—despite $9Bil WH request.https://t.co/BTCmlZBoA6
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 22, 2022
This week, the top health officials said that they had changed the definition of a “Covid death” to reduce the number of public deaths. But crematoriums in China’s capital are having trouble keeping up with the number of bodies, and the Financial Times recently saw bodies piling up at hospitals.
During the reopening, several models, including one partly paid for by the Chinese CDC, predicted that up to 1 million Covid deaths could happen in the country. A request for comment from the National Health Commission was not answered. Chan Ho-him in Hong Kong sent us more news.
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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.