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Covid-19: China Minimizes Outbreak – Science et Avenir

The People’s Daily, the official press organ of the Chinese Communist Party, reports in its release on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, Chinese expert testimony suggesting that most people currently infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus develop only forms relatively mild Covid-19.

Field evidence contradicts these claims.

“Severe and critical forms of the disease account for 3% to 4% of infected patients currently admitted to specialized hospitals in Beijing,” said Tong Zhaohui, vice president of Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital, quoted by the newspaper.

Meanwhile, Kang Yan, head of Sichuan University’s Western China Tianfu Hospital, said a total of 46 patients have been admitted to intensive care units over the past three weeks, about 1 percent with symptomatic infection. But field testimony contradicts those claims, reporting overcrowded hospitals and funeral services for two weeks.

On Tuesday, the emergency room at Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai was overwhelmed with patients, mostly elderly, according to a Reuters reporter. Some of them were on stretchers and provided with blankets, while dozens of others were waiting to see a doctor, and it was impossible to know the proportion of patients suffering from Covid-19.

“We are ready to improve our communication with the world”

The abandonment of the “zero Covid-19” policy in early December, under the pressure of growing popular protest in China, led to an explosion in infections, in particular, raising fears about the emergence of new options. The upcoming lifting on January 8 of restrictions on international travel from China thus prompted several countries last week, including France, to reinstate border sanitation measures for travelers arriving from China.

China’s Foreign Ministry ruled on Tuesday that the claims were “simply unfounded” and lacked “no scientific basis.”

“We are ready to improve our connection with the world,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters on Tuesday. “But we strongly oppose attempts to manipulate epidemic prevention and control measures for political purposes and will take adequate measures in different situations based on the principle of reciprocity,” she said.

While the reliability of the epidemiological data provided by China since the beginning of the epidemic is already the subject of many reservations (in total, less than 5,300 deaths have been reported since the end of 2019, compared to almost 158,000 in France, for example), China’s National Health Commission announced at the end of December that it was ending publication of daily epidemiological reports of infections and deaths without explanation.

‘China’s transparency issue persists’

In recent days, WHO has repeatedly urged Chinese health authorities to regularly share accurate and up-to-date information on the circulation of the virus and the epidemic situation, including the number of hospitalizations, deaths and vaccination coverage status.

The UN organization specifically invited Chinese scientists to present detailed data on genome sequencing of viral strains currently circulating in the country during a meeting of its Covid-19 Technical Advisory Group scheduled for Tuesday afternoon (Geneva time, where the organization is based ). . But experts say these calls for transparency can no more be heard than previous ones.

“I don’t think China will be very sincere in sharing information,” said Alfred Wu, a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the University of Singapore. “They will either choose not to share (this information) or say nothing happened or nothing new. In my opinion, it can be assumed that there is nothing new (…) but the fundamental problem is that the issue of China’s transparency remains,” he added.

(Report from the Beijing and Shanghai offices, with input from Farah Master in Hong Kong and Emma Farge in Geneva; written by Marius Zacharias, French version by Miriam Rivet, edited by Keith Entringer)

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