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Chinese authorities estimate that about 250 million people, or 18 percent of the population, were infected with Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December, as Beijing suddenly lifted restrictions that had contained the disease for nearly three years.
The estimates — including 37 million people, or 2.6 percent of the population, who were infected on Tuesday alone — were revealed by Sun Yang, deputy director of China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a health briefing on Wednesday, two people familiar with the matter said. with the question.
Sun said the speed of CovidThe spread of the virus in the country is still growing and it is estimated that more than half of the population in Beijing and Sichuan is already infected, the people briefed on the meeting said.
The explosion in cases followed Beijing’s decision this month to abandon its zero-Covid policy, which had kept the virus at bay through mass testing, mandatory quarantine and draconian lockdowns.
The Sun’s figures, given at a closed-door meeting, contrasted with figures put out by the National Health Commission, which reported 62,592 symptomatic Covid cases over the same period. Last week China stopped publicly trying to count the total of infections after authorities restricted Covid testing.
The lack of published official information has prompted Washington and the World Health Organization to push Beijing to be more transparent about the number of cases, the severity of the disease, hospital admissions and other health statistics that are widely available from other countries.
in ChinaIn the capital and other cities across the country, the wave of Covid infections has swamped hospitals with an influx of elderly, bedridden patients and left emergency rooms and intensive care units with few available beds.
However, the country continued to abandon the zero-Covid policy as medical bills rose. Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee announced on Saturday that long-awaited quarantine-free travel between the city and mainland China will resume as early as mid-January.
“The central government has agreed to fully open the borders in a gradual and orderly manner,” Li told reporters after returning from a four-day trip to Beijing, where he met President Xi Jinping. “Families separated for nearly three years due to the pandemic can be reunited. . .[and]Hong Kong’s economy could be supported.
Chambers of commerce and industry leaders in the financial center have called for months for the border to be fully opened as restrictions on movement have hampered the territory’s economy, which is expected to suffer an annual decline of 3.2 percent this year.
The NHC’s official report on Wednesday’s event provided few details about what the country’s top health officials discussed.
But at the meeting, Ma Xiaowei, director of the NHC, demanded that hospitals fix overcrowded emergency rooms and move patients to inpatient wards, one of the people involved in the event said. He also urged medium-sized and large hospitals to accept more patients with severe symptoms and promised that regulators would not hold them responsible for rising death rates.
Meanwhile, the estimate of 250 million cases has raised further doubts about the accuracy of official Covid statistics and how authorities are reporting deaths from the disease.
The NHC reported just 4,103 new domestic cases on Saturday for the previous day, with no Covid-related deaths for the second day in a row. Hong Kong, by contrast, reported 20,460 new local cases on Saturday in the previous 24 hours.
China has officially reported only eight deaths since December 1. Senior health officials said this week that there is narrow the definition of what constitutes a death from Covid, in a move that lowered the public death toll.
However, crematoriums in the Chinese capital are struggling to cope with a wave of corpses and bodies have been piling up in hospitals visited by the Financial Times in recent days.
Several models, including one partially funded by China’s CDC, predict the country could suffer up to 1 million deaths from Covid during its reopening.
The National Health Commission did not respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Chan Ho-him in Hong Kong
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