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Chinese state media seeks to reassure the public about COVID


WUHAN, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Thousands of Chinese took to the streets to mark the New Year, as authorities and state media sought to reassure the public that the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak was under control and nearing its peak.

Although many people in major cities continue to isolate themselves as the virus spreads through the population, New Year’s festivities seemed largely unaffected as people celebrated the end of 2022 and the arrival of 2023.

In Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first identified in late 2019, residents said worries about the impact of easing the strict zero-tolerance COVID restrictions on living with the disease have now subsided — at least for the young and healthy.

“Basically now, my friends and I feel relatively positive and optimistic,” said a 29-year-old teacher surnamed Wu. “A lot of people are going out.

“We all know that especially for the middle-aged and the elderly, especially those over 60, especially those with co-morbidities, they will be affected by this virus,” he said.

A long line of people queued at the emergency department of Wuhan’s Tongji Hospital, a primary facility for COVID-19 patients, like 72-year-old resident Huang, who wanted to be identified only by her last name.

“I don’t feel well. I have no energy. I can not breathe. I used to be in good health. They did X-rays to check my lungs… This hospital is very unpleasant, you have to wait a long time,” she said.

DATA UNDER CHECK

China’s dramatic reversal of control of COVID — as well as the accuracy of case and death data — have come under increasing scrutiny both at home and abroad.

The rise in cases has raised new concerns about health of the economy and in his first public comments since the policy change, President Xi Jinping called in a New Year address for more effort and unity as China enters a “new phase”.

China reported one new death from COVID-19 on the mainland on Dec. 31, as well as a day earlier, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.

The cumulative official death toll in China now stands at 5,249, far fewer than in other major countries. The government has rejected claims it deliberately understated the death toll.

A steady stream of mourners and hearse drivers arrived at Hankou Funeral Home on the outskirts of Wuhan on Sunday.

Staff at the site’s heavily guarded entrance declined to answer questions about their recent workload. But funeral homes in other cities in China – including Chengdu and Beijing – said they were busier than ever since China suddenly lifted its COVID curbs last month.

China’s CDC reported 5,138 officially confirmed cases on Saturday, but because mass testing is no longer taking place, experts say the actual number of infections is significantly higher.

State media in the southeastern Chinese city of Guangzhou said Sunday that daily cases peaked at about 60,000 recently and are now around 19,000.

Authorities are trying to reassure the public that they have the situation under control, and state news agency Xinhua published an editorial on Sunday saying the current strategy was a “planned, science-based approach” reflecting the changing nature of the virus.

AUTHORIZATION

Xinhua said separately that drug production had accelerated in the past month, with production of the painkillers ibuprofen and paracetamol now at 190 million tablets a day, five times higher than in early December.

Production of antigen testing kits almost doubled to 110 million per day in one month, it said.

On Sunday, Australia and Canada joined the United States and others in requiring travelers from China to provide negative COVID-19 tests when they arrive. Morocco will impose a ban on people arriving from China, the foreign ministry said.

Australian Health Minister Mark Butler said additional measures would also be considered amid concerns that China is not disclosing enough information about the nature and extent of the current outbreak.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen suggested on Sunday that provided China with “necessary assistance” to help it deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard in Wuhan and David Stanway in Shanghai; Editing by Neil Fullick

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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