- Beijing reports two deaths, first since December 3
- It comes after Beijing relaxed anti-virus controls
- Citizens, analysts question official statistics
- The virus outbreak is weighing on the world’s second-largest economy
BEIJING, Dec 19 (Reuters) – China reported its first death from a COVID-19 infection in weeks on Monday amid growing doubts that the official toll of the disease spreading in in cities after the government eased anti-virus restrictions. .
Monday’s two deaths were the first reported by the National Health Commission (NHC) since December 3, days before Beijing announced it was lifting restrictions for the most time in three years. years of containing the virus but there were large protests last month.
Even on Saturday, Reuters reporters saw reporters standing outside a COVID-19 crematorium in Beijing and workers in hazmat suits carrying corpses into the building. Reuters could not determine whether the deaths were due to COVID.
The hashtag on the two deaths of the COVID disease quickly became the trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday.
“Why are the statistics incomplete?” asked one user. “Isn’t this cheating the public?,” added another.
The NHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The low death toll since the restrictions were lifted on December 7 is not in line with the experience of other countries following similar moves. China has suffered just 5,237 COVID-related deaths during the pandemic, including two new deaths, a small fraction of its population of 1.4 billion.
But health experts said China may be paying a price for working hard to protect a population with no natural immunity to COVID-19 and a low vaccination rate among the elderly.
Some fear that China’s COVID-19 death toll will rise above 1.5 million in the coming months.
Chinese news agency Caixin on Friday reported that two government journalists had died after contracting COVID, and on Saturday a 23-year-old medical student also died. It was unclear which, if any, of these diseases were included in the official death statistics.
“The (official) number is an underestimate of the number of COVID deaths,” said Yanzhong Huang, an international health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank.
“It may reflect the government’s lack of ability to track and monitor disease trends on the ground after the failure of the mass PCR testing method, but it may be driven by actions to avoid the great fear of the death of the COVID disease,” he said.
The NHC reported 1,995 confirmed deaths for December 18, compared to 2,097 the day before.
But death rates have become an unreliable guide because PCR testing has been conducted less frequently since then. The NHC stopped reporting asymptomatic cases last week citing a decline in testing.
Chinese stocks fell and the yuan fell against the dollar on Monday, as investors worried that rising COVID-19 cases would further weigh on the economy’s second- largest in the world despite promises of government support.
The virus was rampant in trading floors in Beijing and quickly spread into Shanghai’s financial hub, causing deaths and losses that weakened trading and prompted executives to cancel a meeting. weekly to monitor public share sales.
Japanese chip maker Renesas Electronics Corp ( 6723.T ) said on Monday it has suspended operations at its Beijing plant due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
A survey by World Economics showed on Monday that Chinese business confidence fell in December to its lowest level since January 2013. China’s economy is expected to grow by 3% this year, it was his worst performance in nearly half a century.
China’s top doctor Wu Zunyou said on Saturday that the country is facing the first of three expected COVID waves this winter, which is better than what people are saying about the country.
“I would say 60-70% of my colleagues … are infected now,” Liu, a 37-year-old university staff in Beijing, told Reuters, urging indicated by his surname.
Beijing mayor Xu Hejian told reporters on Monday that COVID is spreading rapidly in the city, straining medical resources. However, more restrictions will be lifted, and previously closed places in the country, from bars to internet cafes, will be allowed to reopen, Xu said.
Xu had no comment on the deaths.
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Although officials have been downplaying the Omicron threat of the virus in recent weeks, authorities are still concerned about the elderly, who are no longer willing to be vaccinated.
China’s vaccination rate is above 90%, but the rate for adults who have received booster shots drops to 57.9%, and to 42.3% for people 80 and older, which according to government data.
In Beijing’s Shijingshan district, medical workers are going door-to-door to administer vaccines to people in their homes, Xinhua news agency reported.
Comments by Liz Lee, Martin Quin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, Ethan Wang and Ryan Woo in Beijing and David Kirton in Shenzhen; Written by John Geddie and Marius Zaharia; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore
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