Xi calls for steps to ‘protect’ lives as China battles Covid wave

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his first public comments on Covid-19 on Monday, urged officials to take steps to protect lives since Beijing dramatically eased strict containment measures this month.

After largely cutting itself off from the rest of the world during the pandemic, China is now experiencing the world’s largest spike in infections after the abrupt lifting of restrictions that were torpedoing the economy.

Studies assume that around a million people could die in the next few months. Many members of the community are currently struggling with drug shortages, while emergency medical facilities are burdened by an influx of under-vaccinated elderly patients.

“Currently, the prevention and control of Covid-19 in China is facing a new situation and new tasks,” Xi said in a statement, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

“We should launch the patriotic health campaign more purposefully… strengthen a common line of defense for epidemic prevention and control, and effectively protect people’s life, safety and health,” Xi said.

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Hospitals and crematoria across the country are overflowing with Covid patients and victims, while China’s National Health Commission announced on Sunday it would no longer publish daily nationwide infection and death statistics.

The decision to scrap the daily virus count comes amid fears that the country’s burgeoning wave of infections is not being accurately reflected in official statistics.

Beijing has admitted the extent of the outbreak will be “impossible” to track after mandatory mass testing ends, as people are no longer required to share test results with authorities.

And last week Beijing narrowed the criteria used to count deaths from Covid-19 – a move experts said would suppress the number of deaths attributed to the virus.

The winter surge comes ahead of two major public holidays next month, when millions of migrant workers are expected to travel to their hometowns to meet up with relatives.

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Authorities are preparing for the virus to hit underserved rural areas hard, and on Monday called for guaranteed supplies of medicines and medical treatment during the New Year’s Day and week-long Lunar New Year holiday beginning on January 21.

The ruling Communist Party and State Council issued a statement urging officials to “ensure the smooth and orderly adjustment and transition of epidemic prevention and control measures.”

– Millions infected per day –

In recent days, health officials in the affluent coastal province of Zhejiang estimated a million residents were being infected a day, while the coastal city of Qingdao forecast around 500,000 new daily infections and the southern manufacturing city of Dongguan was eyeing 250,000 to 300,000.

Unofficial surveys and models based on search engine terms suggest that the wave may already have peaked in some major cities, including Beijing and Chongqing.

A survey of over 150,000 residents in southwestern Sichuan province, organized by disease control officials, found 63 percent had tested positive for Covid and estimated infections peaked on Friday.

ALSO READ: Elderly Covid patients fill hospital wards in China’s major cities

Just six Covid deaths have been officially reported since Beijing lifted most of its restrictions earlier this month.

But crematorium workers interviewed by AFP have reported an unusually high influx of bodies, while hospitals said they are counting multiple deaths a day as emergency rooms fill up.

The main funeral center in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou postponed all ceremonies until Jan. 10 to focus on cremations due to the “heavy workload,” according to a statement published online Sunday.

China’s censors and mouthpieces have been working overtime to win the decision to scrap strict travel restrictions, quarantines and quick lockdowns, even as cases skyrocket.

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