China is reducing reporting of COVID-19 cases as the virus increases

BEIJING (AP) — China’s National Health Commission cut its daily COVID-19 report as of Wednesday in response to a sharp drop in PCR testing since the government eased anti-virus measures after daily cases hit an all-time high.

A post on the commission’s website said it stopped publishing daily figures on the number of COVID-19 cases where no symptoms were detected because it was “impossible to accurately understand the true number of asymptomatically infected individuals”, which generally accounted for the vast majority of cases. new infections. The only numbers they report are confirmed cases discovered in public testing facilities.

This poses a significant challenge for China as it relaxes its strict “zero COVID” policy. With mass PCR testing no longer required and people with mild symptoms recovering at home rather than in one of the field hospitals that became notorious for overcrowding and poor hygiene, it has become more difficult to measure the true number of cases.

The streets of Beijing have become eerily quiet, with queues forming outside fever clinics – the number of which has increased from 94 to 303 – and at pharmacies, where cold and flu medicines are harder to find.

Despite a push to boost vaccinations among the elderly, two centers set up in Beijing to administer injections were empty on Tuesday except for medical staff. Despite fears of a major outbreak, there was little evidence of an increase in the number of patients.

At the China-Japan Friendship Hospital fever clinic in Beijing, a dozen people waited for the results of the nucleic acid test. Nurses in full-body white protective clothing checked patients one by one.

A few miles south, at Chaoyang Hospital, about a dozen people waited in a row of blue tents, deflecting the wind amid sub-zero temperatures. A person in line pulled out a bottle of sanitizer and sprayed it around her while she waited.

Across the street at Gaoji Baikang Pharmacy, about a dozen people lined up for cough medicine and Chinese herbal remedies. A sign out the front told waiting customers, “Avoid panic and hoarding, we are committed to stocking up to meet your medicinal needs.” A man who came out had bought two packs of Lianhua Qingwen, a Chinese herbal medicine, and said that any customer should not buy more.

According to state media, the number of inquiries to health hotlines has increased sixfold.

Without counting asymptomatic cases, China reported just 2,249 “confirmed” infections on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 369,918 — more than double the October 1 level. It has recorded 5,235 deaths – compared to 1.1 million in the United States.

The figures provided by the Chinese government have not been independently verified and questions have been raised about whether the Communist Party has tried to minimize the number of cases and deaths.

As of Tuesday, US consulates in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang and the central city of Wuhan are only providing emergency services “in response to the increased number of COVID-19 cases,” the State Department said.

President Xi Jinping’s government is still officially committed to stopping the transmission of viruses. But the latest moves suggest the party will tolerate more cases without quarantines or closing travel or businesses as it scales down its “zero-COVID” strategy.

Despite relaxed rules, restaurants in the capital were largely closed or empty. Many companies are struggling to find enough staff who have not become infected. Sanlitun, one of Beijing’s most popular shopping streets, was deserted despite anti-COVID-19 fences being torn down in recent days.

Hospitals are also reportedly struggling to stay staffed as packages pile up at distribution points due to a shortage of China’s ubiquitous motorized tricycle delivery drivers.

Some Chinese universities say they will allow students to complete the semester from home in hopes of reducing the chance of a larger COVID-19 outbreak during the travel rush of the Lunar New Year in January.

As of Tuesday, China also stopped tracking some trips, reducing the likelihood of people being forced into quarantine for visiting COVID-19 hotspots. Despite this, China’s international borders remain largely closed, and there’s no word on when restrictions will be eased for inbound travelers and Chinese people seeking to go abroad.

The move follows the government’s dramatic announcement last week that it was ending many of the strictest measures, after three years of imposing some of the world’s toughest virus restrictions.

Last month, protests over the restrictions in Beijing and several other cities grew into calls for Xi and the Communist Party to step down — a level of public discord not seen in decades. The party responded with massive violence and an unknown number of people were arrested at the protests or in the days following.

Experts warn there is still a chance the party could reverse course and re-impose restrictions if a large-scale outbreak ensues.

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