Official stats not reflecting true impact of Covid-19 wave in China: WHO


Beijing –The World Health Organization (WHO) criticised China’s “very narrow” definition of Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday (Jan. 4), warning that official statistics were not showing the true impact of the outbreak.

“We believe that the current numbers being published from China under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan said.

Global health officials also tried to determine the facts of China’s raging Covid-19 outbreak and how to prevent a further spread as the government’s mouthpiece newspaper on Wednesday rallied citizens for a “final victory” over the virus.

China’s axing of its stringent anti-virus controls last month has unleashed Covid-19 on a 1.4 billion population that has little natural immunity having been shielded from the virus since it emerged in the city of Wuhan three years ago.

Many funeral homes say they are overwhelmed, and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year, but China has reported five or fewer deaths a day since the policy U-turn.

“That is totally ridiculous,” a 66-year-old Beijing resident who only gave his last name Zhang said of the official death toll.

“Four of my close relatives died. That’s only from one family. I hope the government will be honest with the people and the rest of the world about what’s really happened here.”

China has rejected international scepticism of its statistics as politically motivated attempts to smear its achievements in fighting the virus.

“China and the Chinese people will surely win the final victory against the epidemic,” the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, said in an editorial, rebutting criticism of China’s three years of isolation, lockdowns and testing that triggered historic protests late last year.

Having lifted the restrictions, Beijing is hitting back against decisions by some countries to insist that visitors from China show pre-departure Covid-19 tests, saying the rules were unreasonable and lacked a scientific basis.

Japan became the latest country to require a pre-boarding negative test, joining the United States, Australia and others. European Union health officials are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss a coordinated response to China travel.

China, which has been largely shut off from the world since the pandemic began, will stop requiring inbound travellers to quarantine from Jan 8. But it will still demand that arriving passengers get tested before they begin their journeys.

Data doubts

WHO officials met Chinese scientists on Tuesday amid concerns over the accuracy of China’s data on the spread and evolution of its outbreak.

The UN agency had invited the scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing, hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations.

Last month, Reuters reported that the WHO had not received data from China on new Covid-19 hospitalisations since Beijing’s policy shift, prompting some health experts to question whether it might be hiding information on the extent of its outbreak.

China reported five new Covid-19 deaths for Tuesday, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, very low by global standards.

British-based health data firm Airfinity has said about 9,000 people in China are probably dying each day from Covid-19.

There were chaotic scenes at Shanghai’s Zhongshan hospital where patients, many of them elderly, jostled for space on Tuesday in packed halls between makeshift beds where people used oxygen ventilators and got intravenous drips.

With Covid-19 disruptions slowing China’s US$17 trillion economy to its lowest growth in nearly half a century, investors are now hoping policymakers will intervene to counter the slide.

China’s yuan hovered at a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday, after its finance minister pledged to step up fiscal expansion this year, days after the central bank said it would implement more policy support for the economy.

Booking boom

Despite some countries imposing restrictions on Chinese visitors, interest in outbound travel from the world’s most populous country is cranking up, state media reported.

Before the pandemic, global spending by Chinese tourists exceeded US$250 billion a year.

Bookings for international flights from China have risen by 145 percent year-on-year in recent days, the government-run China Daily newspaper reported, citing data from travel booking platform

The number of international flights to and from China is still a fraction of pre-Covid-19 levels. The government has said it will increase flights and make it easier for people to travel.

Thailand expects at least 5 million Chinese arrivals this year, its tourism authority said. More than 11 million Chinese visited Thailand in 2019, nearly a third of its total visitors.

But there are signs that an increase in travel from China could further spread the virus abroad.

South Korea, which began testing travellers from China on Monday, said more than a fifth of the test results were positive.

Authorities there were hunting on Wednesday for a Chinese national who tested positive but went missing while awaiting quarantine. The person, who was not identified, could face up to a year in prison or fines of 10 million won (US$7,840). 


Top: People wearing protective masks cross a street as China returns to work despite continuing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreaks in Shanghai, China, on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo: Reuters/Aly Song and published by CNA

Insert: Beijing has admitted the scale of the latest Covid-19 outbreak has become “impossible” to track following the end of mandatory mass testing last month. Photo: AFP/Noel Celis and published by CNA

Front Page: Travellers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in Beijing, China on December 27, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Tingshu Wang and published by CNA

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