China saw in the New Year with the shadow of Covid looming large as cases surged and Beijing moved to reassure the public that the world’s No2 economy is on the road to recovery.
Thousands took to the streets to mark the start of 2023 as the authorities and state media stressed that the Covid-19 outbreak sweeping across the country was under control and nearing its peak.
China’s abrupt U-turn on Covid controls – as well as the accuracy of its case and mortality data – have come under increasing scrutiny both at home and overseas.
The surge in cases has raised fresh worries about the health of the economy and in his first public comments since the change in policy, President Xi Jinping called in a New Year’s address for more effort and unity as China enters a “new phase”.
China reported one new Covid-19 death in the mainland for December 31, the same as a day earlier, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.
The accumulated official death toll in China now stands at 5,249, far lower than in other large countries. The government has rejected claims that it has deliberately underreported the total number of fatalities.
China’s CDC reported 5,138 official confirmed cases on Saturday, but with mass testing no longer in operation, experts say the actual number of infections is significantly higher.
State media in the city of Guangzhou in southeastern China said on Sunday that daily cases peaked at around 60,000 recently, and now stand at around 19,000.
Authorities have been trying to reassure the public that they have the situation under control and state news agency Xinhua published an editorial on Sunday saying that the current strategy was “a planned, science-based approach” reflecting the changing nature of the virus.
Australia, Canada, US Curbs for China Travellers
Xinhua said separately the manufacturing of medicines had accelerated in the last month, with production of pain relievers ibuprofen and paracetamol now at 190 million tablets per day, five times higher than in early December.
Antigen test kit production has nearly doubled to 110 million per day in a month, it said.
On Sunday, Australia and Canada joined the United States and others in requiring travellers from China to provide negative Covid-19 tests when they arrive. Morocco will impose a ban on people arriving from China, its foreign ministry said.
Australian Health Minister Mark Butler said additional measures would also be considered amid concerns that China is not disclosing enough information about the nature and extent of the current outbreak.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen offered on Sunday to provide China with “necessary assistance” to help it deal with the surge in Covid-19 cases.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara