China reports first COVID deaths in weeks as official count questioned

  • Beijing has reported two deaths, the first since December 3
  • After Beijing relaxed anti-virus controls
  • Citizens and analysts question the official figures
  • The virus surge is putting pressure on the world’s No. 2 economy

BEIJING, Dec 19 (Reuters) – China on Monday reported its first death from Covid-19 in weeks, amid doubts over whether an official count would reflect the full death toll from the disease, which has fallen since the government eased anti-virus controls. Whether it is found or not, it is published in the cities. .

Monday’s two deaths were the first reported by the National Health Commission (NHC) since December 3, days before Beijing announced it was lifting restrictions that have largely kept the virus under control for three years. It does, but last month it provoked widespread protests.

On Saturday, however, Reuters reporters saw hearses lined up outside a designated Covid-19 crematorium in Beijing and workers in hazmat suits carrying the dead into the facility. Reuters could not immediately determine whether the deaths were caused by Covid-19.

The hashtag of the two reported Covid deaths quickly became a top trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday.

“What’s the use of incomplete statistics?” one user asked. Another wrote: “Isn’t this deceiving the people?”

The NHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The low number of deaths since restrictions were lifted on December 7 is inconsistent with the experience of other countries after similar measures. China has officially suffered 5,237 Covid-related deaths during the pandemic, including the two most recent deaths, a small fraction of its population of 1.4 billion.

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But health experts have said China may be paying a price for adopting such strict measures to protect a population that now lacks natural immunity to COVID-19 and has low vaccination rates among the elderly.

Some are worried that the number of victims of Covid in China will reach more than 1.5 million in the coming months.

Two state media reporters have died after contracting Covid-19, China’s official Caixin news agency reported on Friday, followed by a 23-year-old medical student on Saturday. It was not immediately clear which of these deaths were included in the official death toll.

Yanzhong Huang, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, said: “The (official) numbers are clearly understating the number of deaths from Covid.

This “may reflect the government’s lack of ability to effectively track and monitor the disease situation on the ground after the collapse of the mass PCR testing regime, but may also be due to efforts to prevent mass panic due to rising Covid-related deaths.” He said.

The NHC reported 1,995 symptomatic infections for December 18, compared with 2,097 the day before.

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But infection rates have also become an unreliable guide as less mandatory PCR testing is carried out in the wake of recent declines. The NHC stopped reporting asymptomatic cases last week due to reduced testing.

Chinese stocks fell on Monday and the yuan fell against the dollar as investors worried that a surge in Covid-19 cases would affect the world’s second-largest economy, despite promises of government support.

The virus was spreading through Beijing’s trading markets and is spreading rapidly in the financial hub of Shanghai, with illness and absenteeism already slowing trading and forcing regulators to cancel a weekly meeting to review public stock sales.

Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics Corp ( 6723.T ) said on Monday it had suspended work at its factory in Beijing due to COVID-19 infections.

China’s business confidence fell to its lowest level since January 2013 in December, a World Economics survey showed on Monday. China’s economy is expected to grow 3 percent this year, its worst performance in nearly half a century.

Rapid expansion

Wu Zunyu, China’s chief epidemiologist, said on Saturday that the country is in the first of three expected waves of Covid this winter, which is more in line with what people say they are experiencing on the ground.

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“I would say 60 to 70 percent of my colleagues … are infected now,” Liu, a 37-year-old university cafeteria worker in Beijing, told Reuters.

Beijing city official Xu Hejian told reporters on Monday that Covid is spreading rapidly in the capital, putting pressure on medical resources. However, more restrictions will be lifted and previously closed underground venues, from bars to Internet cafes, will be allowed to reopen, Zhou said.

Khoo did not comment on any casualties.

Another official said Beijing will speed up imports of Covid-19 drugs amid a shortage of pharmacies in the city. read more

While senior officials have downplayed the threat posed by the Omicron strain of the virus in recent weeks, officials remain concerned about the elderly who are reluctant to get vaccinated.

Vaccination rates in China are above 90 percent, but government data show that vaccination rates drop to 57.9 percent for adults who have received a booster shot and to 42.3 percent for those over 80.

In Beijing’s Shijingshan district, medical workers have gone door-to-door offering to vaccinate elderly residents in their homes, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Reporting by Liz Lee, Martin Kevin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, Ethan Wang and Ryan Wu in Beijing and David Kirton in Shenzhen. By John Geddy and Marius Zaharia. Edited by Simon Cameron Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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