China races to bolster health system as COVID surge sparks global concern –

by | Dec 20, 2022 | COVID-19

Authorities rush to add hospital beds, build fever clinicsU.S. raises concerns over possibility of COVID mutationsBeijing reports five more deaths on TuesdaySecurity tight at crematoriums amid doubts over death tollBEIJING/SINGAPORE, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Cities across China scrambled to install hospital beds and build fever screening clinics on Tuesday as authorities reported five more deaths and international concern grew about Beijing’s surprise decision to let the virus run free.China this month began dismantling its stringent “zero-COVID” regime of lockdowns and testing after protests against curbs that had kept the virus at bay for three years but at a big cost to society and the world’s second-largest economy.Now, as the virus sweeps through a country of 1.4 billion people who lack natural immunity having been shielded for so long, there is growing concern about possible deaths, virus mutations and the impact on the economy and trade.”Every new epidemic wave in another country brings the risk of new variants, and this risk is higher the bigger the outbreak, and the current wave in China is shaping up to be big,” said Alex Cook, vice-dean for research at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.”However, inevitably China has to go through a large wave of COVID-19 if it is to reach an endemic state, in a future without lockdowns and the economic and political damage that results.”U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday the potential for the virus to mutate as it spreads in China was “a threat for people everywhere”.Xu Wenbo, an official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters new mutations would occur but played down concerns.”New strains’ immune escape ability becomes stronger, more contagious,” Xu said. “But the possibility of them becoming more lethal is low. The possibility of strains that are more contagious and more pathogenic is even lower.”Beijing reported five COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, following two on Monday, which were the first fatalities reported in weeks. In total, China has reported 5,242 COVID deaths since the pandemic emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, a very low toll by global standards.But there are rising doubts that the statistics are reflecting the true impact of a disease ripping through cities after China dropped curbs including most mandatory testing on Dec. 7.Since then, some hospitals have become inundated, pharmacies emptied of medicines, while many people have gone into self-imposed lockdowns, straining d …

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