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Beijing (AFP) – Chinese President Xi Jinping urged officials to take measures to protect lives on Monday in his first public comments on Covid-19 since Beijing sharply loosened hardline containment measures this month.
Having largely isolated itself from the rest of the world during the pandemic, China is now experiencing the biggest rise in infections on the planet after abruptly lifting restrictions that torpedoed the economy.
Studies have estimated that around a million people could die in the coming months. Many in the population are now dealing with drug shortages, while emergency medical facilities are overwhelmed by the influx of unvaccinated elderly patients.
“At present, the prevention and control of COVID-19 in China is facing a new situation and new tasks,” Xi said in a directive, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
“We should launch the patriotic health campaign in a more targeted way…strengthen a community line of defense for epidemic prevention and control, and effectively protect people’s lives, safety and health,” Xi said.
Hospitals and crematoriums across the country have been overflowing with Covid patients and victims, while China’s National Health Commission announced on Sunday that it would stop publishing daily statistics on infections and deaths across the country.
The decision to remove the daily virus count comes amid concerns that the country’s burgeoning wave of infections is not being accurately reflected in official statistics.
Beijing admitted that the scale of the outbreak has become “impossible” to trace following the end of mandatory mass testing, as people are now not required to declare test results to authorities.
And last week, Beijing lowered the criteria by which Covid-19 deaths were counted, a move that experts say would suppress the number of deaths attributable to the virus.
The winter surge comes ahead of two major holidays next month, when millions of migrant workers are expected to travel home to reunite with family members.
Authorities are bracing for the virus to hit poor rural areas hard, and on Monday called for guaranteed supplies of medicines and medical treatment during New Year’s Day and the week of the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on the 21st. from January.
The ruling Communist Party and the State Council issued a notice calling on officials to “ensure smooth and orderly adjustment and transition of epidemic prevention and control measures.”
Millions of infected per day
In recent days, health officials in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang estimated that one million residents were becoming infected a day, while the coastal city of Qingdao forecast about 500,000 new infections a day and the southern manufacturing city of Dongguan forecast 250,000. and 300,000.
Unofficial surveys and models based on search engine terms suggest the wave may have peaked in some major cities, including Beijing and Chongqing.
A survey of more than 150,000 residents of the southwestern Sichuan province organized by disease control officials showed that 63 percent had tested positive for Covid and estimated infections peaked on Friday.
Only six Covid deaths have been officially reported since Beijing lifted most of its restrictions earlier this month.
But crematorium workers interviewed by AFP have reported an unusually high influx of bodies, while hospitals have said they are recording multiple deaths a day as emergency rooms fill up.
The main funeral service center in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou postponed all ceremonies until January 10 to focus on cremations due to “heavy workload,” according to a notice posted online on Sunday.
China’s censors and spokesmen have been working overtime to turn the decision to scrap strict travel restrictions, quarantines and quick lockdowns into a victory, even as cases soar.
© 2022 AFP