China has admitted that close to 60,000 people with Covid-19 have died in hospital since it abandoned its zero-Covid policy last month.
It’s a massive increase on previous figures and comes after Beijing faced global criticism over the reliability of its coronavirus data.
In early December, Beijing abruptly dismantled its strict three-year anti-virus regime of frequent testing, travel curbs and mass lockdowns after widespread protests in late November, and cases have surged since then across the nation of 1.4 billion.
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Between December 8 and January 12, the number of Covid-related deaths in Chinese hospitals totalled 59,938, Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration under the National Health Commission (NHC), told a media briefing.
While international health experts have predicted at least 1 million Covid-related deaths this year, China had previously reported just over 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began, one of the lowest death rates in the world.
Authorities had been reporting five or fewer deaths a day over the past month – figures inconsistent with long queues seen at funeral homes and body bags seen leaving crowded hospitals.
The World Health Organization said this week that China was heavily under-reporting deaths from Covid, although it was now providing more information on its outbreak.
But health official Jiao said the number of patients needing emergency treatment was declining and the share of patients at fever clinics who tested positive for Covid-19 was steadily falling as well.
The number of severe cases has also peaked, she added, though they remained at a high level, and patients are mostly elderly.
Lunar New Year Fears
Officials said China will strengthen supplies of drugs and medical equipment in rural areas and beef up training of frontline medical staff in those regions.
A sharp rise in travel ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions return home from cities to small towns and rural areas, has fuelled concerns that it will bring a surge in cases during a celebration that begins on January 21.
Despite worries about infections, air passenger volumes in China have recovered to 63% of 2019 levels since the annual travel season began on January 7, the industry regulator said on Friday.
The transport ministry has predicted passenger traffic volumes to jump 99.5% on the year during the festival migration, which runs until February 15, or a recovery to 70.3% of 2019 levels.
In the Chinese gambling hub of Macau, Friday’s 46,000 daily inbound travellers were the highest number since the pandemic began, the majority from the mainland, the city government said. It expects a Spring Festival boom in tourism.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara
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