As many as 250 million people in China have been infected with Covid this month, according to reports based on leaked official estimates, as the country’s health system grapples with rising cases since restrictions were lifted .
The figure – about 18% of the total population – includes 37 million people infected on Tuesday alone, according to Sun Yang, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, whose estimates were disclosed and reported in the FinancialTimes, Bloomberg and elsewhere.
The country’s National Health Commission did not comment on the reports.
China began dismantling its strict Covid controls this month, becoming the latest major country to do so.
But the easing of measures has led to a dramatic increase in the number of cases as citizens leave factories and buildings and travel for the first time in months.
As workers get sicker, more disruption to the economy and supply chains is expected in the near term before the economy rebounds later next year.
The nation of 1.4 billion people officially reported fewer than 4,000 new symptomatic Covid cases nationwide on Thursday, and no new deaths – but authorities recently tightened the numbers criteria, drawing criticism from many experts in the country. disease.
Experts from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Hong Kong have predicted between one and two million deaths in China in 2023.
Concerns about the impact of the Covid outbreak in China have pushed stock markets in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia lower.
Daily infection rates in China are expected to exceed one million, with more than 5,000 deaths a day – a stark contrast to official figures – British health data firm Airfinity said this week.
A hospital in Shanghai has estimated that half of the mall’s 25 million people will be infected by the end of next week. Experts say the country could face more than a million Covid deaths next year.
Meanwhile, cities continue to relax the rules. Shanghai said people who tested positive would be allowed to end home isolation after seven days if their symptoms significantly eased or ended, not mentioning the need for more testing.
Guidance earlier this month had said they could end home isolation after testing negative for antigen and PCR tests.
China’s abrupt shift in policy has left its fragile health system severely ill-prepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for medicine and authorities rushing to build clinics.
More than a dozen global health experts, epidemiologists, residents and political analysts interviewed by Reuters identified failure to vaccinate older people and communicate an exit strategy to the public , as well as the excessive emphasis on eliminating the virus, as causes of the pressure on China. medical infrastructure.
A campaign to vaccinate the elderly launched three weeks ago has yet to bear fruit. China’s overall vaccination rate is over 90%, but the rate among adults who received boosters drops to 57.9% and 42.3% for those aged 80 and over, according to data from the government.
China has nine domestically developed Covid vaccines approved for use, all considered less effective than Western-made vaccines that use new mRNA technology.
A shipment of 11,500 BioNTech mRNA vaccines for German nationals in China has arrived at the German Embassy in Beijing.
The World Health Organization has not received any data from China on new Covid hospitalizations since Beijing lifted its zero-Covid policy. The WHO said the data gaps could be because Chinese authorities are simply struggling to tally cases.
Associated Press and Bloomberg contributed to this report