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China says critical COVID cases have peaked as holiday travel surges

  • Millions travel across the country for Lunar New Year
  • President Xi says he is worried about the elderly and rural areas
  • Daily deaths could reach 36,000 next week, analysis finds
  • Chinese drugmakers rush to make fever medicine

BEIJING, Jan 19 (Reuters) – The number of COVID patients requiring intensive care in Chinese hospitals has peaked, health authorities said on Thursday, as millions traveled across the country for long-awaited reunions with families, raising fears of new epidemics.

There has been widespread skepticism of China’s official COVID data since it abruptly scrapped virus checks last month that had protected China’s 1.4 billion people from the disease. during three years.

China said last Saturday that nearly 60,000 people with COVID had died in hospitals between December 8 and January 12 – a roughly tenfold increase from previous disclosures.

However, that number excludes those who die at home, and some doctors in China said they were discouraged from putting COVID on death certificates.

As travel resumes during the busy Lunar New Year holiday season, up to 36,000 people could die from the disease every day, according to the latest forecast from UK health data company Airfinity. Other experts predict that over a million people will die from the disease this year.

But a National Health Commission official told a news conference on Thursday that China has passed the peak period of COVID patients in fever clinics, emergency rooms and in critical conditions.

The number of patients hospitalized with critical conditions was more than 40% lower on Jan. 17 than a peak seen on Jan. 5, an official said.

The new data comes after President Xi Jinping expressed concern that rural areas were ill-equipped to deal with a rise in infections as the holidays, which officially begin on January 21, bring crowds of city dwellers back to their hometowns.

Before COVID first emerged in China’s central city of Wuhan in late 2019, the festive season was known as the largest annual migration of people anywhere on the planet.

“China’s COVID prevention and control is still in a time of stress, but light is ahead, perseverance is victory,” Xi said Wednesday in a holiday message broadcast by state broadcaster CCTV.

“I am most worried about rural areas and farmers. Medical facilities are relatively weak in rural areas, so prevention is difficult and the task is arduous,” Xi said, adding that the elderly were a absolute priority.

China’s chaotic exit from a regime of mass lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass COVID testing has also sparked a drug rush as people fend for themselves against the disease.

To meet growing demand, drugmakers in China are rushing to triple their capacity to manufacture key fever and cough medicines, China Daily reported Thursday.

China has so far relied on domestic vaccines to fight the pandemic, avoiding foreign-made vaccines, which some studies have found to be more effective, while other foreign treatments for COVID- 19 were hard to find in China.

Pfizer’s (PFE.N) The COVID-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid is available in China but has been very difficult to obtain through official channels, according to media reports and personal accounts. Merck & Co. (MRK.N) the antiviral treatment molnupiravir has also been approved but is not yet widely available.

Modern (ARNM.O) Chief Executive Stephane Bancel told Reuters on Wednesday that the US company was in active talks to supply COVID-19 vaccines to China.

At a meeting this week, China’s National Medical Products Administration pledged to stabilize prices of COVID-related drugs and crack down on counterfeit sales.

“A SIGNIFICANT BURDEN”

Airfinity estimated on Wednesday that 62 million people could be infected with the virus between January 13 and January 27 and that daily COVID-related deaths could peak at 36,000 on January 26, up sharply from previous forecasts.

“Our forecast estimates a significant burden on the Chinese healthcare system for the next fortnight and it is likely that many treatable patients could die due to overcrowded hospitals and lack of care,” said Matt Linley, director. Airfinity analytics.

Beyond the death toll, there is hope that China’s reopening will reinvigorate a $17 trillion economy suffering from one of its lowest growth rates in nearly half a century.

Owners and managers of Chinese factories, which produce nearly a third of the world’s manufactured goods, are hoping to return to normality after years of virus restrictions and a recent wave of infections has disrupted business.

China could see a strong recovery from the second quarter, IMF Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath told Reuters on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Those hopes have pushed major Chinese stock markets and the yuan currency to multi-month highs in recent sessions.

Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which is trying to revive its economy dependent on finance and trade, said on Thursday it would not require people with COVID-19 to be quarantined from January 30, removing the one of his last major viral restrictions.

Reporting by Bernard Orr, Martin Quin Pollard and Beijing newsroom; Written by John Geddie; Editing by Neil Fullick and Tomasz Janowski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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