70% of Chinese megacity infected with Covid, doctor says

State media downplaying severity of Covid ahead of crucial briefing to WHO

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 03 January 2023 14:18 GMT
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As China battles a massive surge in Covid cases, a senior doctor at one of Shanghai’s top hospitals has claimed that 70 per cent of the city’s population has been infected.

The wave of cases comes after the Communist regime loosened draconian Covid restrictions overnight, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums.

Chen Erzhen, vice president at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai and a member of the city’s Covid-19 expert advisory panel, was quoted as saying the majority of the city’s 25 million people may have been infected.

“Now the spread of the epidemic in Shanghai is very wide, and it may have reached 70 per cent of the population, which is 20 to 30 times more than [in April and May],” he reportedly said.

Meanwhile, state media have downplayed the severity of the Covid wave ahead of a crucial briefing to WHO scientists on Tuesday.

Experts are saying that the illness has been relatively mild for most people, according to Reuters.

WHO officials have met counterparts from China’s National Health Commission to ask for “regular sharing of specific and real-time data on the epidemiological situation”.

“I don’t think China will be very sincere in disclosing information,” Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, told Reuters.

“They would rather just keep it to themselves or they would say nothing happened, nothing is new. My own sense is that we could assume that there is nothing new ... but the problem is China’s transparency issue is always there.”

Since China ended mandatory mass testing last month, Beijing has admitted the scale of the outbreak has become “impossible” to track. The National Health Commission has stopped publishing daily nationwide infection and death statistics.

Now that responsibility has been transferred to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which will only publish figures once a month.

Channel News Asia reported that China has only recorded 15 Covid-19 deaths since it eased restrictions on 7 December, shortly after it narrowed the criteria by which deaths from the virus are recorded.

Several countries including the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada have imposed restrictions on arrivals from China.

Meanwhile, China has rejected criticism of its Covid data and said any new mutations may be more infectious but less harmful. China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday the entry restrictions imposed by some countries on travellers from China “lacked scientific basis” and were “simply unreasonable”.

Health experts are now readying for the virus wave to hit China’s underresourced rural interior, where vaccination rates have been lower.

Millions are expected to travel home for the week-long Chinese New Year public holiday beginning 21 January. In an interview with China’s state television channel CCTV, National Health Commission official Jiao Yahui admitted that dealing with the expected peak in rural areas would be an “enormous challenge”.

“What we are most worried about is in the past three years nobody has returned home for Chinese New Year but they finally can this year,” said Ms Jiao.

“As a result, there may be a retaliatory surge of urban residents into the countryside to visit their relatives, so we are even more worried about the rural epidemic.”

Meanwhile, the European Union on Tuesday offered free Covid vaccines to China as part of a package of “solidarity and support”.

China has so far insisted on using only Chinese-made vaccines, which are of the inactivated virus type and not based on Western mRNA technology.

Additional reporting by agencies

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