- Beijing reports two deaths, first since Dec. 3
- After Beijing eased antivirus controls
- Citizens, analysts question official figures
- Virus surge weighs on world’s second-largest economy
BEIJING, Dec 19 (Reuters) – China reported its first COVID-related death in weeks on Monday, amid growing doubts over whether the official tally captures the virus that has swept through the country after the government eased strict anti-virus controls. The total number of deaths from diseases in each city.
Monday’s two deaths were the first reported by the National Health Commission (NHC) since Dec. 3, days after Beijing announced the lifting of restrictions that had largely contained the spread of the virus for three years but sparked an outbreak last month. widespread protests.
On Saturday, however, Reuters reporters witnessed hearses queuing outside a designated COVID-19 crematorium in Beijing and workers in protective gear transporting the dead inside the facility. Reuters could not immediately determine whether the deaths were due to COVID.
The hashtag about the two COVID deaths quickly became a trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday morning.
“What’s the point of incomplete statistics?” asked one user. “Isn’t this deceiving the public?” wrote another netizen.
NHC did not immediately respond to Reuters questions about the accuracy of its data.
Officially, China has suffered just 5,237 COVID-related deaths during the pandemic, including the two most recent ones, a fraction of its 1.4 billion population and very low by global standards.
But health experts say China may pay a price for taking such strict measures to protect a population that now lacks natural immunity to COVID-19 and has low vaccination rates among the elderly.
Some fear China’s COVID death toll could exceed 1.5 million in the coming months.
Respected Chinese news outlet Caixin reported on Friday that two state media journalists had died after contracting COVID, and then on Saturday a 23-year-old medical student also died. It was unclear whether those deaths, if any, were included in the official death toll.
“The (official) figures clearly underestimate the number of deaths from COVID,” said Yanzhong Huang, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US think tank.
This “may reflect the country’s inability to effectively track and monitor the disease situation on the ground following the collapse of the mass PCR testing regime, but it may also be an effort to avoid mass panic over the surge in COVID deaths,” he said Say.
The NHC reported 1,995 symptomatic infections on Dec. 18, compared with 2,097 a day earlier.
But infection rates have also become an unreliable guide, as far fewer mandatory PCR tests are being done following the recent easing. The NHC stopped reporting asymptomatic cases last week, citing a drop in testing.
Chinese stocks fell and the yuan fell against the dollar on Monday, as investors grew concerned that surging COVID-19 cases would further weigh on the world’s second-largest economy despite pledges of support from the government.
The virus has also engulfed trading floors in Beijing and spread rapidly through the financial center of Shanghai, where the illness and absences have thinned out already-thin trading and forced regulators to cancel a weekly meeting to review public share sales.
Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics (6723.T) said on Monday it had suspended work at its Beijing factory due to the COVID-19 infection.
Wu Zunyou, China’s top epidemiologist, said on Saturday that China was in the first of three expected waves of COVID this winter, more in line with what people said they were experiencing locally.
“I dare say 60% to 70% of my colleagues … are infected now,” Liu, a 37-year-old university cafeteria worker in Beijing, told Reuters, asking to be identified by his surname.
While senior officials have been downplaying the threat posed by the new Omicron strain in recent weeks, authorities remain concerned about the elderly, who have been reluctant to get vaccinated.
Official data puts China’s vaccination rate at more than 90%, but that has fallen to 57.9% for adults who have received a booster shot and to 42.3% for people aged 80 and over, according to government data.
In Beijing’s Shijingshan district, medical workers have been going door-to-door to vaccinate elderly people at home, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.
But it’s not just the elderly who are wary of vaccines.
“I don’t believe it,” Candice, 28, a headhunter in Shenzhen, told Reuters, citing friends’ stories about the health effects and similar health warnings on social media. Candace spoke on the condition that only her first name be used.
Vaccines developed overseas are not available to the public in mainland China, and vaccine promotion in mainland China relies on inactivated vaccines from local manufacturers.
While the Chinese medical community generally does not doubt the safety of Chinese vaccines, some say their effectiveness compared with foreign-made mRNA vaccines remains in doubt.
Reporting by Liz Lee, Martin Quin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, Jing Wang and Ryan Woo in Beijing and David Kirton in Shenzhen; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore
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