China races to make COVID drugs as Xi fears rural outbreaks
Xi’s comments come just over a month after his government abruptly lifted its strict “zero-COVID” controls that had largely protected China’s 1.4 billion people from the disease for three years but sparked widespread protests towards the end of November.
As travel increases during the busy Lunar New Year holiday season, as many as 36,000 people could die every day from the disease, according to the latest figures from British-based independent forecasting firm Airfinity. .
China said last Saturday that nearly 60,000 people with COVID died in hospitals between December 8 and January 12 – a roughly tenfold increase from previous disclosures.
However, that number excludes those who die at home, and some doctors in China have said they are discouraged from putting COVID on death certificates. Health experts say China’s official figures are unlikely to reflect the true toll of the virus.
“Based on the reports of overwhelmed hospitals and long lines outside funeral homes, we can estimate that a higher number of COVID deaths have occurred so far, perhaps more than 600,000 rather than just 60,000,” said Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist. in Hong Kong. University.
China’s chaotic exit from a regime of mass lockdowns, travel restrictions and frequent COVID testing has also led to a run on drugs as people brace themselves against the disease.
To meet growing demand, drugmakers in China are ramping up operations to triple their capacity to make key fever and cough medicines, the state-run China Daily reported on -Thursday.
China has relied on domestic vaccines to fight the pandemic, eschewing foreign-made ones that some studies have suggested are more effective, while other foreign treatments for COVID-19 have been hard to come by in China.
Pfizer’s anti-viral COVID-19 drug Paxlovid is available in China but has been very difficult to obtain through official channels, according to media reports and personal accounts. Merck & Co’s antiviral treatment molnupiravir has also been approved for use but is not yet widely available.
Those particularly vulnerable to the virus are the elderly, many of whom are not fully vaccinated and now face exposure as millions of urban workers travel to hometowns to reunite with families for the New Year holidays. First Lunar officially starting on January 21st.
Before COVID first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, the holiday was known as the largest annual migration of people anywhere on the planet.
“China’s COVID prevention and control is still in a time of stress, but the light is ahead, persistence is victory,” Xi said on Wednesday in a congratulatory message of -holidays broadcast by the state broadcaster CCTV.
“I am most worried about rural areas and farmers. Medical facilities are relatively weak in rural areas, so prevention is difficult and the task is difficult,” Xi said, adding that the seniors were a top priority.
Several Chinese cities are set to celebrate the New Year with huge fireworks displays after local governments rolled back bans on their sale in recent years.
Hangzhou, Kunming, Zhengzhou, and Changsha – all of which have populations above 10 million – will allow the sale of fireworks, according to business magazine Yicai.
Airfinity on Wednesday estimated that 62 million people could be infected with the virus between Jan. 13 and 27 and that COVID-related deaths could peak at 36,000 per day on Jan. 26. ‘ January, a strong increase from previous forecasts.
“Our forecast estimates a significant burden on China’s healthcare system for the next fortnight and it is likely that many treatable patients may die due to overcrowded hospitals and lack of care,” he said. Airfinity director of analytics Matt Linley.
(Reporting by Bernard Orr, Martin Quin Pollard and the Beijing newsroom; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Neil Fullick)
By Bernard Orr and Martin Quin Pollard