China downplays COVID epidemic in full swing with holiday rush

China downplays COVID epidemic in full swing with holiday rush
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  • Senior official says COVID at ‘relatively low’ level
  • Hospital, critical cases drop, officials say
  • More than 2 billion trips expected during Lunar New Year
  • Some fear the travel season may see an increase in infections

BEIJING, Jan 20 (Reuters) – People from across China swarmed on trains and buses on Friday for one of the busiest travel days in years, fueling fears over new surges in a severe COVID-19 outbreak that officials say has reached its peak.

In comments reported by state media late on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan said the virus was at a “relatively low” level, while health officials said the number of hospitalized and critically ill COVID patients was declining.

But since Beijing abandoned strict COVID controls and mass testing last month, there have been widespread doubts about China’s official statement of an outbreak that has flooded hospitals and funeral homes.

This U-turn policy, following historic protests against the government’s drastic measures against the virus, has unleashed COVID on a population of 1.4 billion who have been largely protected from the disease since it emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019.

While some health experts predict that more than a million people will die from the disease in China this year, UK-based health data firm Airfinity estimates that COVID deaths could reach 36,000 per day next week.

“Recently, the overall epidemic in the country is at a relatively low level,” Sun said in comments reported by the state-owned Xinhua news agency. Said.

“Although the rescue mission is still heavy, the number of critically ill patients in hospitals is declining.”

He spoke on the eve of one of the craziest travel days in China since the start of the pandemic, as millions of city residents travel to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year holiday that officially kicked off on Saturday.

Between January 1, more than 2 billion trips are expected across China. 7 and 15 February, the government estimates.


Excited passengers loaded with luggage and gift boxes boarded the trains on Friday to their long-awaited family reunion.

“Everyone is looking forward to going home. After all, we haven’t seen our families for a very long time,” a 30-year-old named Li told Reuters at Beijing’s West train station.

But for others, the holiday is a reminder of lost loved ones.

Gu Bei, a writer from Shanghai, said on the Weibo social media platform that he had been waiting for almost two weeks for his mother to be cremated, and that the funeral home could not tell him when the mass would be scheduled.

China’s internet regulator said this week it would censor any “fake information” about the spread of the virus that could cause “gloomy” feelings during the Lunar New Year festivities.

Gu shared that his mother’s cause of death was not specified, “I heard that dark and gloomy words are not allowed in the new year. So now let me mourn my mother.”

The expenditures of funeral homes from body bags to cremation furnaces increased in many provinces, Show documentsOne of the few indicators of COVID’s deadly toll.

China said about 60,000 people with COVID died in hospital between December 1. 8 and January 12. But those who died at home are not included in this figure, and some doctors said they were discouraged from transmitting COVID. on death certificates.


President Xi Jinping said it was him this week. anxious about the influx of travelers into rural areas with poor medical systems, and that protecting the elderly, many of whom are not fully vaccinated, is a top priority.

This of the World Health Organization Immunization director Kate O’Brien praised China on Friday for making rapid progress in vaccinating older people with COVID vaccines and boosters since it lifted anti-virus controls last month.

However, he added that some older people find it “difficult” to understand changes in vaccination policy, as they were previously advised not to seek protection.

A WHO report on Thursday said China had reported a huge jump in COVID hospitalizations in the week leading up to January 1. 15 is the highest level since the pandemic began. Based on data presented by Beijing, hospitalizations rose 70% from the previous week to 63,307, according to WHO.

But at a press conference on Thursday, health officials said the number of COVID patients admitted to the hospital had peaked, with more than 40% fewer people being treated in critical conditions on January 1. Compared to the peak on January 17. 5.

While China’s reopening has been chaotic, investors are hopeful it will help boost its $17 trillion economy and are placing bets that push Chinese stocks and the yuan to multi-month highs.

“Markets predict that suppressed demand growth will unleash once the Chinese economy reopens,” Nomura analysts said in a note.

They warned that the decline in household wealth and the rise in youth unemployment, the hangover of years of lockdowns and travel restrictions could dampen recovery.

With international flights falling short, Chinese tourists, the much missed mainstay of the world retail and travel industry, are starting to travel again.

Malls from Macau to Bangkok, lure them Celebrate the Year of the Rabbit with red lantern shows, special dances and high discounts.

China’s travel spending rose to $255 billion in 2019, accounting for 33% of spending in the global luxury personal goods market, according to Bain consulting estimates.

Reporter Liz Lee, Alessandro Diviggiano, Bernard Orr and Beijing newsroom By John Geddie and Frances Kerry Editors Robert Birsel and Chizu Nomiyama

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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