Health

Covid-19 deaths plummet in China: official data

Beijing, Dec 20 (EFE).- China recorded just five Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday despite the rapid spread of the virus after restrictions were lifted following a wave of unprecedented civil unrest in several large cities.

The National Health Commission announced two deaths from the disease on Monday, and another five on Tuesday, after Beijing lifted its strict ‘zero Covid’ rule and allowed infected persons to self-isolate at home instead of forcing civilians to do so in isolation centers, which had been the norm since the pandemic broke out in early 2020.

The shift in the government’s Covid-19 policy was triggered by a wave of unprecedented protests that broke out in several Chinese cities after civilians started to challenge the stiff rules when footage of joyous and maskless crowds at the World Cup in Qatar was broadcast.

But the sudden change in pandemic protocol has led to empty streets and a hike in the number of infections that, so far, is not reflected in official statistics — China only reported 2,722 new cases on Tuesday.

But many in the Asian country suspect that official statistics are not recording the real Covid-19 death toll in recent weeks.

China, with a population of 1.4 billion, has recorded 5,242 deaths since the pandemic began, which includes deaths registered this week.

Citizens have been sharing footage of long queues at crematoriums in cities like Beijing on social media channels, and some Weibo accounts — China’s answer to Twitter, which is banned — are claiming that Beijing’s official death toll “is impossible.”

“I know of many more people who have died in recent days than those figures that we see in the statistics,” says one user, while another calculates that in a city like Beijing, with a population that surpasses 20 million, at least 15,000 residents will perish this winter.

“The statistics are incomplete. Why?” asks another Weibo user.

Caixin Global, a Chinese news outlet, has said that the authorities have changed the way deaths from the virus are accounted for so that only deaths directly linked to Covid are recorded on the national toll while patients suffering from underlying diseases are excluded from the count.

Despite the shift in policy, the government maintains that its no-nonsense approach was critical in saving millions of lives in the last two years, state television CGTN reported.

The global mortality rate since the outbreak of the disease is 1.03% whereas in China it stands at 0.31% thanks to the tough strategy that was adopted which protected the nation from the virus despite the economic and social fallout, the state-backed English language broadcaster said.

But opening up has now brought with it a host of other challenges and issues, and to deal with the spike in cases, former PCR testing booths have been repurposed into care-posts for patients in need of assistance and medicine.

“The government decided to fully open without having collected enough medicines, and now people do not even dare to go out to buy them. They have to make sure that everyone can access them,” another user on Weibo denounced.

Authorities are expecting a fresh wave of infections for the Lunar New Year holidays, which takes place from 21 to 27 January and heralds the largest annual migration on the planet as people head home for the festive season.

Local authorities have been given orders by the central government to prioritize health services in rural areas “to protect the population” given “the relative scarcity of medical care resources.”

The Chinese government assured its citizens in earlier December that the conditions were in place for the country to adjust to new measures as the virus is no longer causing as many deaths.

Beijing also announced plans to speed up the vaccination drive of older people who are considered one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to Covid-19, but who are often reluctant to get jabbed. EFE

jco/ch/jot

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