China declares ‘decisive victory’ over COVID-19

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top leaders declared a “decisive victory” over COVID-19 and claimed it has the world’s lowest death rate, although experts have questioned Beijing’s data as the coronovirus raged across the country after three years of fighting had been largely kept in check.

China abruptly ended its zero-COVID policy in early December, with 80% of its 1.4 billion people infected, a prominent government scientist said last month.

Despite widespread reports of overcrowded infirmaries and morgues, China only recorded about 80,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals in the two months after it dropped its curbs.

Some experts say the real number was far higher because many patients are dying at home and doctors have been widely discouraged from reporting COVID as a cause of death.

“With continuous efforts to streamline COVID-19 prevention and control measures since November 2022, China’s COVID-19 response has made a smooth transition in a relatively short period of time,” China’s Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) said at a meeting on Thursday.

“A major decisive victory in epidemic prevention and control has been achieved,” it said, adding that China’s efforts have resulted in more than 200 million people receiving medical treatment, including nearly 800,000 severe cases.

But leaders warned that while the situation is improving, the virus is still spreading around the world and continues to mutate, according to state media.

The meeting stressed that China will increase vaccination rates for the elderly and strengthen the supply and production of medical supplies. The PSC, China’s most powerful governing body, called on all locations and departments to strengthen the medical supply system, according to the official Xinhua News Agency’s report.

The statement didn’t say how many had died from COVID and comes weeks before China holds its annual parliamentary session and policymakers seek to revive an economy battered by three years of COVID restrictions.

In December, after historic protests, China suddenly dismantled President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy, unleashing the coronavirus in a population largely protected from the disease since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Many countries and the World Health Organization have speculated that China has underreported deaths for months, with some experts earlier predicting that COVID could lead to at least a million deaths in the country this year.

Despite fears that the massive migration of travelers during the Lunar New Year would lead to an explosion of cases, the government recently said the COVID situation was at a “low level” after the holidays.

(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Bernard Orr and Tony Munroe; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Jamie Freed & Simon Cameron-Moore)


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