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China Covid wrap: Beds run out in Beijing amid surge in cases; WHO, US voice concerns over ‘under-reporting’

NEW DELHI: Amid mounting concerns from US, World Health Organization (WHO) and other countries, China has come out in staunch defence of its handling of the raging Covid-19 outbreak which has caused an alarming health crisis in the country.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular press briefing in Beijing that the country had transparently and quickly shared Covid data with the WHO.
This comes after the WHO lashed out Chinese officials, accusing them of under-representing data on several fronts.
China reported one new Covid death in the mainland for Wednesday, compared with five a day earlier, bringing its official death toll to 5,259.
But compared to various estimates, the country is likely seeing thousands of infections as well as deaths on a daily basis.
Here are the key developments …
China vs WHO over Covid data
Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, told a media briefing on Wednesday that current numbers being published from China under-represent hospital admissions, intensive care unit patients and deaths.
“We still do not have complete data,” Ryan told reporters.
The WHO added that data from China shows that no new coronavirus variant has been found in the country as yet.
Speaking hours later, US President Joe Biden said that he was concerned about how China was handling the outbreak.
“They’re very sensitive … when we suggest they haven’t been that forthcoming,” he told reporters while on a visit to Kentucky.
In response, Mao said that China’s “epidemic situation is controllable” and that it hoped the WHO would “uphold a scientific, objective, and impartial position”.
“Facts have proved that China has always, in accordance with the principles of legality, timeliness, openness and transparency, maintained close communication and shared relevant information and data with the WHO in a timely manner,” Mao said.
Data gaps
With one of the lowest official Covid death tolls in the world, China has been routinely accused of under-reporting for political reasons.
In December last year, the WHO said it had received no data from China on new Covid hospitalisations since Beijing lifted its zero-Covid policy.
In its latest weekly report, the WHO said China reported 218,019 new weekly Covid cases as of January 1, adding that gaps in data might be due to authorities simply struggling to tally cases.
The methods for counting Covid deaths have varied across countries since the pandemic first erupted in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Chinese health officials have said only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients who had the virus are classified as Covid deaths.
But disease experts outside China have said its approach would miss several other widely recognised types of fatal Covid complications, from blood clots to heart attacks as well as sepsis and kidney failure.
Beds run out at Beijing hospital
Patients, most of them elderly, were seen lying on stretchers in hallways and taking oxygen while sitting in wheelchairs as C-19 surges in China’s capital Beijing.
The Chuiyangliu hospital in the city’s east was packed with newly arrived patients on Thursday. By mid-morning beds had run out, even as ambulances continued to bring those in need.
Hard-pressed nurses and doctors rushed to take information and triage the most urgent cases.
The surge in severely ill people needing hospital care follows China abandonment of its most severe pandemic restrictions last month after nearly three years of lockdowns, travels bans and school closures that weighed heavily on the economy and prompted street protests not seen since the late 1980s.
Local authorities in some areas are appealing to the public to avoid traveling during this month’s Lunar New Year holiday, as the last formal restrictions on movement are lifted.
Monitoring flight wastewater
Meanwhile, several countries have said they will monitor the wastewater from flights originating from China in response to an explosion of Covid-19 cases across the nation.
While the measure will not prevent the spread of the virus, it will give a glimpse into the scale of China’s outbreak and whether new variants are emerging there.
The process involves examining the mixture of urine and faeces from the toilets of flights that have arrived from China.
The wastewater can then be analysed to discover roughly what percentage of the passengers have Covid, as well as the particular variants.
Funeral homes overwhelmed
China’s CDC analysis showed a predominance of Omicron sublineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 among locally acquired infections, according to the data reported by the WHO.
Omicron remains the dominant coronavirus variant based on recent genomic sequencing, confirming what scientists had already said but allaying concerns for now about a new variant of concern emerging.
Many Chinese funeral homes and hospitals say they are overwhelmed, and international health experts predict at least 1 million Covid-related deaths in China this year.
China has reported five or fewer deaths a day since the policy U-turn.
“That is totally ridiculous,” 66-year-old Zhang, a Beijing resident who only gave his last name, said of the official toll.
“Four of my close relatives died. That’s only from one family. I hope the government will be honest with the people and the rest of the world about what’s really happened here.”
Germany, Sweden add Covid testing rules for flights from China
Germany, Sweden and Belgium are imposing new Covid testing requirements on passengers traveling from China after the bloc recommended the step to cope with a surge in cases.
The steps are in line with recommendations by European Union government officials released on Wednesday evening.
Countries like US, UK, India, Australia, Canada and Israel have already imposeed curbs on travellers from China amid a surge in Covid-19 cases in the country.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman warned earlier this week that the country would hit back at nations that placed Covid restrictions on its travelers for “political goals.”
(With inputs from agencies)



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