- State media say severe illness from COVID is rare
- Chinese scientists expected to inform WHO
- Chinese factory activity declines in December
BEIJING/HONG KONG, Jan 3 (Reuters) – State media in China played down the severity of a surge in COVID-19 infections ahead of an expected conference on Tuesday by its scientists at the World Health Organization, which is hoping for detailed data on the development of the virus.
China’s sudden turnaround on COVID controls on Dec. 7, as well as the accuracy of its case and death data, have come under increasing scrutiny at home and abroad.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has labeled travel restrictions imposed by some countries as “simply unreasonable”, saying they “lack a scientific basis”.
“We are ready to improve communication with the world,” foreign ministry spokesman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing.
“But… we firmly oppose attempts to manipulate the prevention and control measures of an epidemic for political purposes, and will take corresponding measures in different situations according to the principle of reciprocity.”
China’s shift away from a “zero-COVID” policy championed by President Xi Jinping followed protests that marked the strongest show of public defiance during his decade in power and coincided with the economy’s slowest growth in nearly half a century. .
As the virus spreads unchecked, funeral parlors have reported a surge in demand for their services and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year.
China reported three new COVID deaths for Monday, bringing its official death toll since the pandemic began to 5,253.
On Tuesday, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, quoted Chinese experts as saying that the illness caused by the virus is relatively mild for most people.
“Severe and critical illnesses account for 3% to 4% of infected patients currently admitted to designated hospitals in Beijing,” Tong Zhaohui, vice president of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, told the newspaper.
Kang Yan, head of West China Tianfu Hospital of Sichuan University, said that in the past three weeks, a total of 46 patients have been admitted to intensive care, or about 1% of symptomatic infections.
The emergency area of Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai was packed with patients on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said.
Some were in beds in the hallway, covered with blankets and receiving IV treatment, while dozens lined up around them, waiting to be seen by a doctor. It was unclear how many were with COVID.
WHAT A MEETING
The World Health Organization urged Chinese health officials to regularly share specific and real-time information about the outbreak.
The WHO invited Chinese scientists to present detailed virus sequencing data at a meeting of a technical advisory group on Tuesday. It also asked China to share data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.
“I don’t think China will be very open about disclosing information,” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“They would rather just keep it to themselves or they would say that nothing happened, nothing is new. My own feeling is that we could assume that there is nothing new … but the problem is that China’s transparency problem is always there.”
The US, France and others will require COVID tests on travelers from China, while Belgium has said it will test aircraft waste water for new variants.
European Union health officials will meet on Wednesday on a coordinated response.
China will stop requiring incoming travelers to go into quarantine from January 8. But it will still require a pre-departure test.
As Chinese workers and shoppers fall ill, concerns are mounting about near-term growth prospects in the world’s second-largest economy, causing volatility in global financial markets.
A survey released on Tuesday showed that China’s manufacturing activity fell last month.
December shipments from Foxconn’s ( 2317.TW ) Zhengzhou iPhone factory, disrupted by worker walkouts and unrest amid the COVID outbreak, were 90% of the company’s initial plans.
A “wildfire” of infections in China in the coming months is likely to damage its economy this year and drag global growth lower, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, said.
“China is entering the most dangerous weeks of the pandemic,” Capital Economics analysts warned.
Mobile data suggested that economic activity was depressed nationwide and was likely to remain so until infections subsided, they added.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism said the 52.71 million domestic trips during the New Year holiday generated 26.52 billion yuan ($3.84 billion), up 4% year-on-year, but was only about 35% of the last pre-pandemic year in 2019.
Expectations are higher for China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, later this month, when some experts predict infections will peak in many areas.
Reporting from Beijing and Shanghai offices; additional reporting from Farah Master in Hong Kong; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel & Simon Cameron-Moore
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