China Under Increasing Strain From Covid Tsunami, Cases May Peak In Jan

Covid testing booths in Beijing. (Bloomberg)

China is seeing Covid spreading unabated across the country, with cities and provinces reporting hundreds of thousands of daily infections surpassing the official national tally and predicting that outbreaks will peak during January.

China’s National Health Commission, the country’s top health regulator, said on Sunday it will stop publishing daily Covid surveillance data, which was seen as widely underestimating the illness’s explosive spread following Beijing’s abrupt pivot from its Covid Zero policy earlier this month.

The true tally of the outbreak in the nation of 1.4 billion isn’t known, making it harder to assess the toll it will take on the economy. After sweeping through Beijing, causing widespread infections and overwhelming hospitals, the omicron variants are spreading across the country, setting off massive outbreaks in major urban centers in the south. 

Eastern manufacturing and tech hub Zhejiang province estimated it’s now seeing 1 million daily Covid cases. That figure could potentially double two weeks from now, before moderating later in January, local officials said at a briefing on Sunday.

The central Chinese city of Zhengzhou, popularly known as the “iPhone city” because it’s a major manufacturing base for Apple Inc., predicts a mid-January peak. Nearby Shangdong and Hubei provinces also anticipate a surge around the same time, according to local reports. 

The country may have seen daily infections of almost 37 million cases in a single day last week, the National Health Commission estimated, according to minutes from an internal meeting confirmed by people involved in the discussions. If accurate, the figure would eclipse the previous daily global record of about 4 million, set in January 2022. 

Beyond China’s megacities, the virus is making its way toward smaller cities and rural areas. Under-resourced regional hospitals have little experience dealing with the disease and are already struggling with limited supplies for fever-reducing medicines and other basic treatments, according to a report by Chinese business news portal Caijing over the weekend. 

The Eastern province of Jiangxi is estimating a peak in Covid infections around early January, as does the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. In nearby Anhui province, the outbreak appears to have hit sooner and probably is peaking at the moment, state news agency China News Service reported, citing local officials. 

China’s top medical school Peking Union Medical College is sending out questionnaires on social-media platform WeChat to poll people on their experience with Covid. The institution, entrusted by the health regulator, said it’s seeking to gauge the scale of Covid’s spread. Around 470,000 have responded to questionnaires in the survey’s first round as of Dec. 21, the school said, adding that the analysis will be crucial reference for the government’s response.

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