BEIJING: A leading Chinese epidemiologist has predicted that the peak of China’s COVID-19 wave will last two to three months and will soon spread over the country’s vast interior, where access to healthcare is limited.
As hundreds of millions of people return to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year holidays, which begin on January 21 and were once the greatest yearly migration of people in the world, infections are predicted to rise in rural areas.
China abruptly ended its rigorous anti-virus programme of widespread lockdowns last month, sparking unprecedented demonstrations across the nation in late November. This past Sunday, China officially reopened its borders.
More than a third of China’s 1.4 billion residents live in areas where infection rates have already peaked, according to state media, and the abrupt removal of limitations has unleashed the virus on the country’s population.
The former head epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Zeng Guang, cautioned that the worst of the outbreak was still to come, according to a report that appeared in the local media site Caixin on Thursday.
“We have given the major cities our primary attention. The moment has come to prioritise rural areas “Zeng’s words were reported.
He claimed that many people, especially the old, the ill, and the disabled, are being left behind in the countryside since there are few medical facilities there.
Authorities have stated that they are working to increase antiviral supply nationwide. Molnupiravir, a COVID medication developed by Merck & Co., is anticipated to become available in China on Friday.
This week, the World Health Organization also issued a warning on the dangers of travelling for vacation.
China was severely underreporting COVID deaths, according to the UN agency, despite now releasing more details on the disease’s epidemic.
The WHO and China’s health officials have undertaken five transparent technical exchanges over the course of the past month, according to China’s foreign ministry.
Over the past month, health authorities have been reporting five or fewer deaths per day, which is contradictory with the lengthy lines at funeral houses and the body bags that can be seen leaving congested hospitals.
Since Monday, the nation has not released COVID fatality data. Officials announced in December that moving ahead, they will publish monthly reports rather than daily ones.
Despite the fact that at least 1 million COVID-related deaths are expected this year, China has reported just over 5,000 deaths since the pandemic started, one of the lowest death rates in the world.
Tensions with Japan, South Korea
More than a dozen nations have started requiring travellers travelling from China to undergo pre-departure COVID testing, among other reasons being worries about data transparency.
Beijing has stated that it strongly opposes such restrictions because it believes them to be “discriminatory” and “unscientific.” Beijing had closed its borders to the rest of the world for three years and still requires all visitors to get screened before their trip.
This week, tensions with South Korea and Japan grew, and China responded by restricting short-term visas for both countries’ citizens. Additionally, the two nations restrict air travel, screen visitors from China upon arrival, and quarantine those who test positive.
Hirokazu Matsuno, the chief cabinet secretary of Japan, stated on Friday that Tokyo will keep pressing Beijing to be open about their outbreak and that Beijing’s response was unbalanced, irrelevant to COVID, and incredibly “regrettable.”
China was starting to get back to normal in some areas.
Residents are moving around more, especially in the larger cities, which suggests that consumer spending and economic activity will gradually rebound this year. However, the levels of a few months ago are still not fully restored in the traffic data and other indicators.
While China’s reopening has helped financial assets throughout the world recover from one of their worst years on record, authorities in the United States and Europe are concerned that it could lead to a resurgence of inflationary pressures.
However, the trade figures for December, which were revealed on Friday, gave cause for caution on the speed of China’s recovery.
Exports may continue to decline through the middle of the year, according to Zichun Huang, economist at Capital Economics, as growth outside of China continues to deteriorate.
According to Jin Chaofeng, who owns a business that distributes outdoor rattan furniture out of Hangzhou on China’s east coast, there are no plans for growth or recruiting in 2023.
“Internal demand is projected to improve but not exports with the easing of COVID limits,” he said.
According to a report, data due out next week is anticipated to reveal that China’s GDP expanded at just 2.8% in 2022, which is the second-slowest growth rate seen since 1976, the final year of Mao Zedong’s devastating ten-year Cultural Revolution.
Growth is then seen rebounding to 4.9% this year, still well below the trend of recent decades.
Some analysts say last year’s lockdowns will leave permanent scars on China, including by worsening its already bleak demographic outlook.
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