China has claimed a “major and decisive victory” in its control of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic that has spread across the country in recent months. The assessment was reached by the top decision-making body of the ruling Communist Party on Thursday during a closed-door meeting presided by by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. This is the latest indication that the nation is attempting to reduce the political repercussions of zero-Covid.
The long-standing ‘zero-Covid’ policy had caused a great deal of resentment, including infrequent mass protests, before it was abruptly ended in December amid mounting economic costs. Rapid reversal of strict disease controls led to an upsurge in cases, bringing hospitals to their knees and sending people rushing for basic medications. But, the outbreak appears to have waned in recent weeks, as seen by government statistics that indicate visits to fever clinics have dropped from a peak in late December to levels that are below that of the time before prohibitions were eased.
According to a statement by the state-run news agency Xinhua, the Politburo Standing Committee stated during its meeting on Thursday that the hugely populous country had “made a miracle in human history” by “effectively pulling through a pandemic”. The group claimed, according to the summary, that China had maintained the lowest Covid-19 fatality rate in the world. China’s top leadership bragged about this statistic throughout the pandemic. It came as a result of the country’s lockdowns, mandated quarantines, and border controls that kept the country’s case numbers—and fatalities—low in comparison to some other major economies.
What are the actual toll numbers?
China has officially reported more than 80,000 fatalities ever since the end of zero-Covid. This figure includes individuals who tested for Covid-19 and died in a hospital but does not include untested or those who perished at home during the virus’s peak. As testing lagged and many patients probably avoided hospitals, the number of those excluded might be significant, according to experts.
“There are still many questions about the death toll in China due to Covid – it might be useful if they could release more information, particularly about the all-cause deaths compared to the pre-Covid years,” said virologist Jin Dongyan, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biomedical Sciences as reported by CNN.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also criticised China for its lack of data clarity during the outbreak, notably its earlier and more restrictive definition of a Covid-19 death, which Chinese health officials modified in January. Further raising concerns about how authorities determined the unrevealed Covid fatality rate, which analysts think is commonly assessed by splitting the death rate over the total amount of cases, is the fact that it is unclear how many people were infected as a whole since China eased the zero-Covid policy.
Over 80% of people in China have already contracted the disease, according to Wu Zunyou, the top epidemiologist for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who posted the information on his personal social media account in late January. According to the most recent CDC reporting, reported death rates have also decreased, with China reporting only 912 hospital deaths for the week of February 3–9. The report also states that the number of fatalities peaked on January 4 with a total of 4,273 deaths that day.
The Road Ahead
As in other nations, there are indications that China’s population has extensive natural immunity; nevertheless, scientists caution that this does not mean the virus is no longer present or that China’s healthcare systems are ready to handle potential future outbreaks brought on by probable new strains.
According to the Xinhua brief of the Politburo Standing Committee meeting, the body “urged all localities and departments to optimise related mechanisms and measures, strengthen the medical service system” and called for planning the upcoming round of vaccinations and improving medical supplies. It also mentioned the need to continue to assist health care.
Even if there were indications that the most recent surge was mostly ended, Jin from the University of Hong Kong concurred that China needed to maintain its preparations. “Covid is still around and will be with us for much, much longer,” he said. “After this tsunami, still they have the new challenge of strengthening the health care system,” he added.