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International News: China hit again by surge of COVID-19 cases as “waves” of virus begin to strike

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2022. 8:05 am CST.

Photo Credit: Reuters

By Aaron Humes: Mainland China faces another surge of COVID-19 cases and is preparing for an expected three “waves” of the virus in its winter season, Reuters reports.

According to the country’s chief epidemiologist, Wu Zunyou, further waves will come as people follow the tradition of returning en masse to their home areas for the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

The country ended most restrictions key to a zero-COVID tolerance policy championed by President Xi Jinping after massive and unprecedented public protests. It has not reported any deaths since December 7 when those restrictions were abruptly lifted but has ended mass testing for the virus, casting doubt on whether official case numbers can capture the full scale of the outbreak. China reported some 2,097 new symptomatic COVID infections on December 17.

In the capital Beijing, the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has already hit services from catering to parcel deliveries. Funeral homes and crematoriums across the city of 22 million are also struggling to keep up with demand amid staff shortages as workers and drivers call in sick.

Speaking at a conference in Beijing on Saturday, chief epidemiologist Wu of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the current outbreak would peak this winter and run in three waves for about three months, according to a state media report.

The first wave would run from mid-December through mid-January, largely in cities, before a second wave would start from late January to mid-February next year, triggered by the movement of people ahead of the week-long New Year holiday.

China will celebrate Lunar New Year starting on January 21. The holiday sees hundreds of millions of people travelling home to spend time with family.

The third wave of cases would run from late February to mid-March as people returned to work after the holiday, Wu said.

A U.S.-based research institute said this week that the country could see an explosion of cases and over a million people in China could die of COVID in 2023.

Wu said severe cases had declined compared with past years and vaccination had offered a certain degree of protection. The vulnerable should be protected, he said, while recommending booster vaccines for the general public.

While China rolled out its first COVID vaccines in 2021, vaccination rates among people aged 60 and above have changed little since the summer, according to official figures. Only 66.4% of people over the age of 80 have completed a full course of vaccination, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

 

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