China is expecting a peak in COVID-19 infections within a week, a health official said, with authorities predicting extra strain on the country’s health system even as they downplay the disease’s severity and continue to report no new deaths.
In the face of a surging outbreak and widespread protests against its “zero-COVID” regime of lockdowns and testing, China began dismantling it this month, becoming the last major country to move towards living with the virus.
Its containment measures had slowed the economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, jamming global supply chains and trade. As Chinese workers increasingly fall ill, more disruption is expected in the short term before the economy bounces back later next year.
China reported less than 4,000 new symptomatic local COVID cases nationwide for December 22, and no new COVID deaths for a third consecutive day. Authorities have narrowed the criteria for COVID deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts.
Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, was quoted in Shanghai government-backed news outlet The Paper on Thursday as saying China “is expected to reach the peak of infections within a week.”
“The peak infection will also increase the rate of severe disease, which will have a certain impact on our entire medical resources,” he said, adding the wave will last another one or two months after that.
“We must be mentally prepared that infection is inevitable.”
Nevertheless, Zhang said he had visited nursing homes around Shanghai, noticing the number of elderly dealing with severe symptoms was low.
Worries over the near-term impact of China’s COVID wave pushed stock markets in China (.SSEC), Hong Kong (.HSI), and elsewhere in Asia lower. The yuan also weakened.
Infections in China are likely to be more than a million a day with deaths at more than 5,000 a day, a “stark contrast” from official data, British-based health data firm Airfinity said this week.
A Shanghai hospital has estimated half of the commercial hub’s 25 million people would get infected by the end of next week. Experts say China could face more than a million COVID deaths next year. (Reuters)