- Beijing pushes for vaccinations for the elderly
- The WHO is calling for vaccination as the virus spreads
- Economic summit begins amid more dire data
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec. 15 (Reuters) – China raced to vaccinate its most vulnerable people on Thursday in anticipation of waves of COVID-19 infections, with some analysts expecting the death toll to rise after easing strict controls that have sparked the pandemic kept on a low profile. bay for three years.
The pressure comes as the World Health Organization also expressed concern that China’s 1.4 billion people were not adequately vaccinated and that the United States was providing assistance in dealing with a wave of infections.
Beijing last Wednesday began dismantling its strict ‘zero-COVID’ controls, scrapping testing requirements and easing quarantine rules that had scared tens of millions and battered the world’s second-largest economy.
The lynchpin of President Xi Jinping’s signature “zero-COVID” policy followed unprecedentedly widespread protests against it. But WHO emergency director Mike Ryan said the number of infections in China exploded long before the government decided to phase out the strict regime.
“There’s a story going around right now that China has lifted restrictions and the disease is suddenly out of control,” Ryan told a briefing in Geneva.
“The disease spread intensively because I believe that the control measures alone did not stop the disease.”
Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said on Thursday that China has “institutional advantages” to fight COVID.
“We will certainly be able to smoothly get through the peak of the epidemic,” he told a regular news briefing in response to White House national security spokesman John Kirby, who said the United States was ready to help if China asked for it.
There are growing signs of chaos amid China’s turn of events — including long queues for fever clinics, escalating prescription drugs and panic buying across the country.
On Thursday evening, China’s state asset regulator urged state-backed major drugmakers to ensure the supply of COVID-related drugs.
The companies include China Resources, China General Technology and Sinopharm, which own companies that produce drugs that can ease the symptoms of the coronavirus.
A video posted online Wednesday showed several people in thick winter clothes strapped to intravenous IVs as they sat on stools on the street outside a clinic in central Hubei province. Reuters verified the location of the video.
China’s COVID fears also led people in Hong Kong, Macau and some neighborhoods in Australia to search for fever medicines and test kits for mainland family and friends.
For all its efforts to suppress the virus since it broke out in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, China may now pay a price for protecting a population that lacks “herd immunity” and low vaccination rates among the elderly, analysts said.
“Authorities have allowed cases in Beijing and other cities to spread to the point where resuming restrictions, testing and tracing would be largely ineffective in controlling outbreaks,” Eurasia Group analysts said in a note Thursday.
“More than 1 million people could die from COVID in the coming months.”
Other experts estimate the potential toll at more than 2 million. China has reported just 5,235 COVID-related deaths so far, extremely low by global standards.
China’s stock markets and Chinese currency fell Thursday on concerns about the spread of the virus.
China reported 2,000 new symptomatic COVID-19 infections for December 14 compared to 2,291 per day. However, the official figures have become less reliable as less testing is done. It also stopped reporting asymptomatic numbers on Wednesday.
CARE FOR THE ELDERLY
China, which has said about 90% of its population has been vaccinated against COVID, has now decided to roll out the second booster shot for high-risk groups and the elderly over 60 years old.
Mi Feng, spokesman for the National Health Commission, said Wednesday that it was necessary to speed up the promotion of vaccines, according to comments from state media.
The latest official data shows China administered 1.43 million COVID injections on Tuesday, well above its November tally of about 100,000-200,000 doses per day. In total, it administered 3.45 billion injections.
But a care home in Shanghai said on Wednesday that some of its residents have not yet been vaccinated and, given their underlying medical conditions, it has ruled out visitors and non-essential supplies while stockpiling medicines, test kits and protective equipment.
“We are racking our brains on how to ensure your grandparents’ safety,” the Yuepu Tianyi Nursing Home wrote in a letter on its official WeChat account page.
Beijing has largely been resistant to Western vaccines and treatments, relying on locally made injections. Pfizer’s (PFE.N) oral COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid is one of the few foreign countries to have it approved.
However, the treatment is only available in hospitals for high-risk patients, but signs have surfaced in recent days that it could soon be made more widely available.
Shares of China Meheco Group Co Ltd rose (600056.SS) after it announced a deal on Wednesday to import the US drug maker’s treatment.
As the virus spread, President Xi, his ruling Politburo and senior government officials began a two-day meeting to plot a recovery for China’s battered economy, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.
China’s economy lost momentum in November as factory production growth slowed and retail sales fell further, both missing forecasts and clocking their worst numbers since May, data showed on Thursday.
Economists estimate China’s growth has slowed to around 3% this year, one of China’s worst performances in nearly half a century.
Reporting by Albee Zhang, Liz Lee and Bernard Orr in Beijing, Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Stella Qiu in Sydney; Additional reporting by Ella Cao in Beijing; Written by John Geddie and Greg Torode; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore and Arun Koyyur
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