Half a million people are infected daily with COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Qingdao alone, a city official reported in a quickly censored article, showing that the statistics do not reflect the unprecedented wave of infections that is descending on the country.
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In early December, amid growing public exasperation, Beijing ended most of the strict “zero Covid” policy health measures it had been scrupulously applying since 2020, removing onerous quarantines and travel restrictions to considerable impact on the Chinese economy.
Since then, Covid cases in China have exploded and a large part of the inhabitants have been left to fend for themselves, at a time when fever medication and self-tests are lacking in the face of exponential demand.
Cities across the country are scrambling to cope with the upsurge in infections that have emptied pharmacy shelves and filled hospital wards, while contributing to an apparent overcrowding at crematoriums.
But the end of mandatory testing makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to estimate the number of cases, while authorities have changed their methodology for counting infections. From now on, only people who died directly from respiratory failure linked to COVID-19 are counted. A methodology which aims, according to experts, to reduce the number of deaths attributed to the pandemic.
But in the eastern city of Qingdao, a Communist Party-run news outlet quoted the municipal health official on Friday as saying the port city was registering “between 490,000 and 530,000” new cases per year. day.
The city of about 10 million people is “in a period of rapid transmission before approaching a peak,” Bo Tao, quoted in the article, said, adding that the infection rate is expected increase another 10% over the weekend.
The article was shared by several other news outlets but had been edited on Saturday morning to remove the numbers.
China's health ministry on Saturday reported 4,103 new infections nationwide the day before, with no new deaths.
In Shandong, the province where Qingdao is located, authorities have officially registered only 31 new cases.
The Chinese government exercises tight control over the country's media, with legions of online censors tasked with removing content deemed politically sensitive.
Most government publications have downplayed the severity of the wave of infections, instead describing the abandonment of the “zero Covid” policy as a logical and controlled measure.
While some media have reported drug shortages and hospitals under strain, estimates of the actual number of cases remain scarce.
The government of eastern Jiangxi province reported in a social media post on Friday that 80% of its population - or about 36 million people - would be infected by March.
More than 18,000 Covid patients have been admitted to major health facilities across the province in the past two weeks, including nearly 500 serious cases, but no deaths have been reported, the statement said.
“Unprecedented in history”
There are signs that infrastructure remains under pressure heading into the weekend, while some regional health officials have warned that the worst is yet to come.
The manufacturing center of Dongguan in the south of the country said on Friday that modeling of the outbreak indicated up to 300,000 new infections per day, adding that the pace was accelerating more and more.
“Many medical infrastructures and personnel are facing serious difficulties and enormous pressure, unprecedented in history”, according to a press release from the health office of this city of 10.5 million inhabitants.
The office also released a video showing patients hooked up to IV drips queuing outside a clinic, or a doctor sleeping on his desk after working late into the night for several days in a row.
A health official in Hainan said on Friday that the island province would hit a peak in infections “very soon”.
In the eastern megalopolis of Shanghai, more than 40,000 patients have been treated for "fevers", according to the People's Daily, a state-run newspaper.
Authorities in Chongqing, a central megalopolis hit by an explosion of cases, have launched a campaign to administer inhalable vaccines.
AFP journalists present in this city of 32 million inhabitants saw hospitals overflowing with patients, mostly elderly, carrying Covid, and dozens of bodies being unloaded in crematoriums.