The virus is spreading rapidly in China after the policy u-turn
Several countries have imposed travel restrictions
The EU meets on Wednesday to discuss China travel policy
WHO holds talks with Chinese scientists, seeks data
By Bernard Orr and Liz Lee
Jan 4 (Reuters) – Global health officials tried to determine the facts of China’s raging COVID-19 outbreak and how to prevent its further spread as the government spokesperson newspaper on Wednesday rallied citizens for a “final victory” about the virus.
China’s lifting of its tough virus checks last month unleashed COVID on a population of 1.4 billion who have little natural immunity having been shielded from the virus since it emerged in its home city of Wuhan three years does.
Funeral homes have reported increased demand for their services, and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year.
But officially, China has reported a small number of COVID deaths since the policy u-turn and downplayed concerns about a disease it had previously been concerned with eradicating through mass lockdowns even as the rest of the world opened up.
“China and the Chinese people will definitely win the final victory against the epidemic,” the Communist Party of China spokesman said in the People’s Daily in an editorial, refuting criticism of its tough anti-virus regime that has sparked historic protests in China. end of last year.
As it now dismantles those restrictions, China has been particularly critical of some countries’ decisions to force a COVID test on their citizens, saying they are unreasonable and lack scientific basis.
Health officials from the 27-member European Union are meeting on Wednesday for a coordinated response to address the implications of increased travel from China.
Most European Union countries prefer pre-departure COVID tests for travelers from China, the European Commission said on Tuesday, following similar measures imposed by the United States, Britain, South Korea and others.
China, which has been largely isolated from the world since the pandemic began in late 2019, will stop requiring incoming travelers to quarantine from January 8. But it will still require arriving passengers to be tested before starting their journeys.
Meanwhile, World Health Organization officials met with Chinese scientists on Tuesday amid concerns over the accuracy of Chinese data on the spread and evolution of its outbreak.
The UN agency had invited scientists to submit detailed data on viral sequencing and to share data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.
WHO will communicate later, likely during a Wednesday press conference, its spokesman said after the meeting. The spokesman previously said the agency expected a “detailed discussion” about the variants circulating in China and around the world.
Last month, Reuters reported that WHO had not received data from China on new COVID hospitalizations since Beijing’s policy change, prompting some health experts to question whether it could be withholding information about the extent of its outbreak.
China reported five new COVID-19 deaths on Jan. 3, up from three the day before, bringing the official death toll to 5,258, very low by global standards.
But the death toll is believed to be much higher. British health data company Airfinity said around 9,000 people in China are likely to die every day from COVID.
Despite some countries imposing restrictions on Chinese visitors, interest in outbound travel from the world’s most populous country is rising, state media reported.
International flight bookings from China have soared 145% year-on-year in recent days, the government-run China Daily reported, citing data from travel booking platform Trip.com.
The number of international flights to and from China is still a fraction of pre-COVID levels. The government has said it will increase flights and make it easier for people to travel abroad.
Thailand, a top destination for Chinese tourists, is expecting at least five million Chinese arrivals this year, its tourism authority said on Tuesday.
More than 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019, nearly a third of its total visitors.
But there are signs that increased travel from China could further spread the virus overseas.
South Korean health authorities, which began testing travelers from China for COVID on Monday, said more than a fifth of the 2,189 arrivals had tested positive. (Reporting by Bernard Orr and Liz Lee in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Screenplay by John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel)