China Emerges from Another COVID Emergency, But Can It Be Maintained?

by Wall Street Rebel - Michael London | 01/31/2023 9:34 AM
China Emerges from Another COVID Emergency, But Can It Be Maintained?

It has been reported that the rapid spread of diseases has halted, and many individuals are keen to move on. However, further outbreaks might result in increased illnesses and fatalities.


There was widespread concern that the wave of infections and fatalities that followed China's sudden abandonment of "zero Covid" would continue to spread from urban to rural areas. Two months later, it appears like the worst is gone, and the administration is ready to focus on economic recovery.

Cities and towns that had hibernated to avoid the onslaught of new diseases and funerals are now slowly emerging from their shells. In phone conversations, doctors from around China who were deployed to treat a surge of Covid patients said that the number of patients they were treating had decreased. The number of reported cases of Covid "already peaked in late December 2022," according to health experts.

Due to restrictions and unreliable data collecting, the exact number of people infected and killed by the pandemic is unclear. Since Dec. 8, China has officially acknowledged approximately 79,000 verified fatalities in hospitals due to Covid. But experts think it's a huge underestimate since it doesn't consider deaths that occurred away from medical facilities.

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The Communist Party has high expectations that it can quickly move beyond such problems and concentrate instead on restoring China's economy, which the lockdowns have damaged. After three years of tough "zero Covid" measures, which had mostly controlled the virus but choked the economy, and then their sudden, messy abandonment in December, the image of its leader, Xi Jinping, was scarred, and restoring growth may help mend that image. His administration's credibility will now be substantially dependent on whether it can provide employment opportunities, especially for a sizable population of jobless young adults and recent college graduates.
Even though he recognized that Covid outbreaks continue to be a cause for concern, Mr. Xi sounded upbeat and optimistic. In a speech he gave to the nation on January 20, only a few days before the Lunar New Year vacation, he informed the country that "the dawn is just ahead."

After another, municipal and provincial officials have announced that the number of illnesses has reached its highest point in their respective regions. Some of China's most economically important areas have developed strategies for boosting consumer and investor confidence. When speaking to hundreds of officials on economic revival a week ago, Huang Kunming, the Communist Party chairman of Guangdong Province in southern China, did not mention the epidemic.

The government has made efforts to control the narrative that is presented to the public about the epidemic by limiting access to certain pieces of information and preventing criticism of the response that they have provided. In spite of this, discontent increased due to shortages of essential medications and the government's attempt to conceal the number of deaths caused by Covid. This occurred at the same time that lines at funeral parlors lengthened and municipal morgues could not hold any more dead.

However, for a large number of Chinese people, the need to get over the epidemic and eke out a livelihood in a difficult environment may, in the end, take precedence over their complaints.

Even while Chinese medical authorities have indicated that the number of illnesses has been declining, they have also cautioned that the nation remains susceptible to additional outbreaks, particularly in rural regions where medical resources are considerably scarcer than in cities.

"A new peak in infections could emerge in the areas that lack doctors and medicine, those — less than 10 percent nationwide — that have not completed the full vaccination round," Gao Fu, a former director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said earlier this month in an interview with China Newsweek magazine. "A new peak in infections could emerge in the areas that lack doctors and medicine," he added. "I still want to encourage everyone to put aside the most crucial medical resources for the high-risk categories, which are elderly or have underlying ailments," she said.

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Several medical professionals and epidemiologists have stated that in order to lessen the impact of any new outbreaks this year, China will need to vaccinate and re-immunize its population, particularly the country's elderly, and better prepare its hospitals to care for patients who have not yet been exposed to Covid.

Even if the next wave isn't as large as the last one, it may strike harder at the weak spots where individuals and places could escape infection during the last one.

Some Chinese health professionals speculate that by the end of 2022, as many as 80% of China's 1.4 billion citizens may have been infected. (Other specialists are doubtful of the estimate, noting that it is improbable that many individuals could have been infected in such a short time, even given the fast transmissibility of the Omicron variety.)

To some extent, "future mortality forecasts will be decided by how successfully China might safeguard individuals who are of greater risks but are still hunkering down," Xi Chen, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health who has watched China's Covid epidemic, stated in email responses.

The number of covid outbreaks throughout the nation increased as the swiftly spreading Omicron variant wore down legions of local officials imposing lockdowns and travel restrictions in China late in the previous year. According to reports, Mr. Xi was shaken by rallies around the country and the deepening economic collapse. As a result, he loosened the epidemic's limitations, resulting in the wave expanding into a tsunami.

The lightning-fast speed with which Covid found its way to the rural areas of China shocked some people. A physician in southern China named Wang Guocai had the foresight to predict an epidemic of the Omicron subvariant not too long after the disease had spread over more populous places. However, he observed that the outbreak seemed to reach its peak intensity just a few days after it had spread across Guangzhou, the capital of the province situated around 300 kilometers away.

Initially, the rural clinic he ran was frequented by a significant majority of younger individuals. During a phone conversation, Dr. Wang said that starting in the 1980s, an increasing number of patients who were in their 60s, 70s, and 80s started coming to the clinic regularly. Many had just arrived from their journeys as migrant workers or merchants.

He claims that in December, he saw dozens of patients a day and gave them drugs for fevers and coughs, but this has plummeted to seeing at most a few individuals daily. He says this is the case because the number of people who are sick has decreased. When asked how he felt, he expressed satisfaction that nobody from his village had been killed in the attack.

Dr. Wang pondered, "Our hamlet was lucky in that, to date, it has not had any occurrences that resulted in fatalities." He added that other settlements in the surrounding area had it much worse, but he could not provide an accurate count of the fatalities. These people all had major ailments, and they all suffered from them.

The official death toll in China is far lower than what was first predicted by specialists like Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Previously, he had calculated that the Covid eruption in China might result in the deaths of 2 million people.

Professor Hanage said, "I don't believe we have any insight into what has really transpired other than the logical assumption that the genuine numbers are substantially bigger than the official ones."

On the other hand, the Chinese people have pieced together a mosaic of perceptions and anecdotes about how their hometowns have fared since the Cultural Revolution.

After the one- or two-week break for the Lunar New Year, when many rural migrants who had traveled to their hometowns for family reunions start to return to cities, the risk of another surge of infections increases when normal life is resumed; this is especially true after the holiday break, which lasts for the Lunar New Year. As individuals start moving again, so may the virus, and those who have escaped infection up to this point may find themselves at risk of contracting it.

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                       Lunar New Year holidays see a decrease in China's Covid-19 deaths

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