Chinese media plays down unfolding Covid disaster ahead of WHO meeting

Chinese media played down the severity of the coronavirus wave sweeping across the nation on Tuesday. It comes as Chinese scientists are due to give a briefing to the World Health Organisation later in the day.

Beijing’s abandonment of its strict Zero Covid strategy on December 7 has been followed with scruitiny of the accuracy of its case and mortality data both at home and abroad.

As a result, a number of countries including the UK have introduced a requirement that travellers arriving from China will need to have a negative Covid test before boarding a flight.

China’s shift away from Zero Covid appears to have been precipitated by public protests over the policy and slow economic growth.

President Xi Jinping’s Zero Covid policy attempted to eradicate community transmission of the virus using quarantines, lockdowns and mass testing.

This is in contrast to the policy of many countries particularly in the West which sought to ensure that health care systems were not overwhelmed.

As a result of Beijing’s policy, the Chinese population has very little immunity to Covid. The levels of vaccination are relatively low as well.

This means that the expected uncontrolled spread of the virus could be highly dangerous with experts predicting a million deaths across China in 2023.

On Monday, China recorded three new deaths from the virus with the official death toll now standing at 5,253.

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In an article on Tuesday, People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, cited a number of experts arguing that the virus was mild for most people.

Tong Zhaohui, Vice President of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital was quoted as saying: “Severe and critical illnesses account for 3 percent to 4 percent of infected patients currently admitted to designated hospitals in Beijing.”

Kang Yan, head of West China Tianfu Hospital of Sichuan University said that over the past three weeks 46 critically ill patients have been admitted to intensive care units which accounts for one percent of symptomatic infections.

“According to the political logic of some people in Europe and the United States, whether China opens or does not open is equally the wrong thing to do,” state-run CCTV said on Monday reflecting a view that China was criticised for its Zero Covid approach and then again when it abandoned it.

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On Friday, the World Health Organisation urged Beijing to regularly share specific and real-time information on the Covid situation.

They invited Chinese scientists to present detailed data about viral sequencing as well as data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

The European Union has also offered free vaccines to China to help quell the outbreak, The Financial Times reported on Tuesday.