The Chinese government's decision to lift its stringent virus restrictions last month has led to a surge in COVID cases among the country's 1.4 billion population, many of whom have little natural immunity after being protected from the virus since it emerged in Wuhan three years ago.
Funeral homes have reported a significant increase in demand for their services, hospitals are overcrowded with patients, and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year. However, the Chinese government has officially reported only a small number of COVID deaths since lifting the restrictions. It has downplayed concerns about the disease, despite the rest of the world beginning to open up.
China Pledges "Final Victory" Over COVID
The Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, has vowed that "China and the Chinese people will surely win the final victory against the epidemic" in response to criticism of the government's tough anti-virus measures that sparked historic protests last year. As the restrictions are lifted, China has also been critical of some countries imposing COVID testing requirements on its citizens, calling them unreasonable and lacking scientific basis.
Japan is the latest country to mandate pre-departure COVID testing for travelers from China, following similar measures from the US, UK, South Korea, and other countries. Health officials from the 27-member European Union are scheduled to meet to discuss a coordinated response to travel from China. Most EU countries favor pre-departure COVID testing for visitors from the country.
Doubts Cast on China's COVID Data
World Health Organization officials met with Chinese scientists this week to discuss concerns over the accuracy of China's data on the spread and evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak. The WHO invited the scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing and share information on hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations. The agency is expected to release details of the talks at a briefing, probably on Wednesday, with a spokesperson saying that the WHO expects a "detailed discussion" about the circulating variants of the virus in China and globally.
Last month, Reuters reported that the WHO had yet to receive data from China on new COVID hospitalizations since the government's policy shift, leading some health experts to question whether China might be hiding the true extent of its outbreak. China has officially reported 5,258 COVID deaths, but the actual toll is believed to be much higher, with a British-based health data company estimating that around 9,000 people in China are probably dying from COVID each day.
China's Economy Slows Due to COVID Disruptions
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused China's $17 trillion economy to slow to its lowest growth in nearly 50 years, leading investors to hope that policymakers will counteract the decline. In response, China's finance minister has pledged to increase fiscal expansion this year, and the central bank has announced that it will implement more policy support for the economy. The country's yuan has remained at a four-month high against the US dollar. Despite the economic struggles, China's travel industry has seen a surge in bookings for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, with domestic flights and hotels fully booked in many cities. However, some experts caution that the increase in travel could lead to a further spread of the COVID-19 virus.