China claims ‘decisive victory’ over Covid amid doubts over data | China

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The Chinese government has declared a “decisive victory” in the fight against Covid-19, claiming it has created “a miracle in the history of human civilization” in successfully steering China through the global pandemic.

The remarks were made at a meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping on Thursday. The government said that more than 200 million people had been treated for Covid and that China’s death rate from the coronavirus was “at the lowest level in the world”.

China’s National Health Commission stopped publishing data on Covid cases and deaths on December 25 after the government abruptly lifted draconian zero-Covid policies that had restricted movement in the country for nearly three years.

On February 9, it said 83,150 people had died from Covid, which would be an unusually low rate for a country battling a wave of the Omicron variant. But there are many other indicators that suggest the virus has spread in China since December, leading to a far higher number of illnesses and deaths than official figures suggest.

Chinese authorities only count Covid deaths in hospitals, the World Health Organization says, underestimating the true toll. There have been reports that doctors were forced to drop Covid from the death certificate. And large-scale testing has been largely abandoned. The number of daily tests fell from 150m on 9 December to 280,000 on 23 January. “We still don’t know how many people got infected and how many died at home,” said Professor Jin Dong-yan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong.

Hospitals and morgues have been overwhelmed with patients and dead bodies since December. Using modeling based on the age distribution and vaccination rates in China, Zhanwei Du and Lauren Ansel Meyers of the University of Texas at Austin estimated that 1.5 million people died of Covid between December 16 and January 19.

The US, which has a population of 334 million compared to China’s 1.4 billion, has reported just over 1.1 million Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic. 2 million have died in Europe, home to about 750 million people.

Medicines to treat Covid have become scarce. Pharmacists in several cities are reportedly breaking open boxes of ibuprofen and paracetamol to split them into smaller batches to serve more customers.

Paxlovid, a drug developed by Pfizer, is particularly sought after, with prices rising on the illegal market. Agence France-Presse reported that a seller was asking 18,000 yuan (£2,190) for a box in January, as many desperate patients were heading overseas to try to buy the drug.

In January, Xi expressed concern that domestic travel over the Lunar New Year holiday, when millions of people traveled home for the first time in three years, could spread the virus. But the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention later said that Covid cases peaked in late December, and the spread of the virus “did not rebound significantly” on the Lunar New Year.

China’s Omicron wave may have peaked. But without proper testing, it will be “challenging” to gather accurate data about the spread of the disease, Jin said.

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