Some 250 million people in China may have been infected with COVID-19 in the first 20 days of December, according to leaked figures from senior Beijing health officials reported by US media.
According to the information published by Bloomberg and the Financial Times, an estimated 37 million people contracted the virus on Tuesday alone, in contrast to official data that counts 3,049 cases that day and 62,592 symptomatic infections during the first 20 days of this month.
Citing two sources involved in the matter, the Financial Times reported that Sun Yang, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, presented the shocking figures at a meeting of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on Wednesday. .
It was unclear how the NHC arrived at its approximation, as Beijing no longer counts asymptomatic infections.
This month, China has swiftly dismantled key pillars of its zero-COVID strategy, scrapping quick lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and travel restrictions in a jarring shift from its signature containment strategy.
Cities across the country have struggled to cope with rising infections that have emptied drugstore shelves, filled hospital wards and seemed to cause delays at crematoriums and funeral homes.
But the end of strict testing mandates has made it virtually impossible to track the number of cases, while authorities have lowered the medical definition of a COVID death in a move that experts say will eliminate the number of attributable deaths. to the virus.
In a rare and quickly censored acknowledgment that the country’s wave of infections is not reflected in official statistics, a top health official said on Friday that half a million people in the Chinese city of Qingdao are infected every day.
A news outlet operated by the ruling Communist Party in Qingdao reported that the municipal health chief said the eastern city was seeing “between 490,000 and 530,000” new cases a day.
The coastal city of around 10 million people was “in a period of rapid transmission ahead of an approaching peak,” Bo Tao said, adding that the infection rate would accelerate by another 10 percent over the weekend. .
The report was shared by several other news outlets, but appeared to have been edited on Saturday morning to remove the case numbers.
China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday that 4,103 new household infections were recorded across the country the day before, with no new deaths.
In Shandong, the province where Qingdao is located, the authorities officially registered only 31 new domestic cases.
China’s government maintains tight control over the country’s media, with legions of online censors on hand to remove content deemed politically sensitive.
Most government-run publications have downplayed the severity of the country’s wave, instead describing the policy shift as logical and controlled.
But some outlets have hinted at drug shortages and hospitals under pressure, though estimates of the actual number of cases remain rare.
The government of eastern Jiangxi province said in a social media post on Friday that 80% of its population, equivalent to around 36 million people, would be infected by March.
More than 18,000 COVID patients have been admitted to major medical institutions in the province in the two weeks to Thursday, including nearly 500 severe cases but no deaths, according to the statement.
‘Unprecedented in history’
There were signs medical resources were still under pressure as the weekend began, as some regional health officials warned the worst was yet to come.
The southern Dongguan manufacturing hub said on Friday that the outbreak model indicated up to 300,000 new infections per day, adding that the rate was “accelerating faster and faster.”
“Many resources and medical personnel are enduring severe challenges and great pressure without historical precedents,” read a statement issued by the health office for the city of 10.5 million.
The office also released video showing patients hooked up to intravenous drips lining up outside a clinic and a doctor sleeping at his desk after working late into the night for several days in a row.
A top health official in Hainan said Friday the island province would peak infections “very soon,” while in the eastern megacity Shanghai more than 40,000 patients were treated for “fever,” the state-run People’s newspaper reported on Saturday. Daily.
Chongqing authorities have launched a campaign to vaccinate residents with inhalable vaccines as the central megacity grapples with a major outbreak.
AFP journalists in the city of 32 million this week witnessed hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 patients, mostly elderly, and dozens of bodies being unloaded at crematoria.