Bernard Orr and Humeyra Pamuk
BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – On Tuesday, as the U.S. said Beijing surprised The decision to cancel and allow the virus to spread freely is a matter of concern around the world.
China abruptly began lifting its strict “Zero COVID” mass lockdown regime this month after protests over containment measures that largely prevented the spread of the virus for three years, but society and the world’s second-largest Big economies paid a huge price.
Now, as the virus sweeps through a country of 1.4 billion people who lack natural immunity but have long been protected, fears are mounting over possible deaths, virus mutations and the economic fallout .
“We know that as long as the virus is circulating, it’s in the wild and it has the potential to mutate and pose a threat to people around the world,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday said, adding that the virus outbreak was also a concern for the Chinese economy and global growth.
Beijing reported five COVID-related deaths on Tuesday and two on Monday, the first reported fatalities in weeks.
Since the late outbreak of the pandemic in the central city of Wuhan, China has reported a total of only 5,2013 COVID deaths, which is extremely low by global standards.
But there are growing doubts about whether those statistics reflect the spread of a disease in urban areas after China lifted restrictions that included most mandatory testing on Dec. 7. The full impact of the raging.
Naturally afterwards, some hospitals were flooded, pharmacies were emptied of medicines, and streets were eerily quiet as residents stayed home either sick or fearful of catching the disease.
Some health experts estimate that 19% of Chinese people – equivalent to % of the world’s population – could be infected in the next few months and more than 2 million people could die.
In the capital Beijing, security guards patrol the entrance to a designated COVID-19 crematorium, where Reuters reporters saw long Long lines of hearses and workers in protective gear carried the dead inside. Reuters could not immediately determine whether the deaths were due to COVID.
In recent weeks, top health officials have softened their tone about the threat posed by the disease, a U-turn from previous messages that the The virus must be eradicated to save lives, even as the rest of the world opens up.
They have also been downplaying the possibility that the now dominant Omicron strain might have evolved to become more virulent.
“The possibility of a sudden large mutation … is very low,” Zhang Wenhong, a prominent infectious disease expert, said in a commentary on a forum reported by state media on Sunday.
But there are growing signs that the virus is hitting China’s fragile health system.
Cities are stepping up efforts to expand intensive care units and other facilities to treat severe COVID cases, state media Global Times reported on Monday.
Authorities have also been racing to build so-called fever clinics, facilities where medical staff check patients for symptoms and administer medicines. Often attached to hospitals, these clinics are common in mainland China and aim to prevent the wider spread of infectious diseases in healthcare facilities.
Over the past week, major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu have announced hundreds of new fever clinics in Wenzhou, according to government WeChat accounts and media reports.
According to Reuters witnesses, late last week, a gymnasium in Shijingshan District, Beijing, was converted into a fever clinic with more than 150 cubicles. bunks, covered a basketball court.
The spreading virus is expected to dampen China’s economy, which is expected to grow 3% this year, its worst performance in nearly half a century.
A survey by the World Economic Institute on Monday showed China’s December business confidence fell to its lowest level since January242.
China kept its benchmark lending rate unchanged for the fourth consecutive month on Tuesday.