China, a nation of 1.4 billion, is reeling under a Covid outbreak, with some reports estimating 9,000 cases every day. The massive explosion in cases came after China decided to scrap zero-Covid policy in December.
A growing number of countries are worried about a lack of data and transparency surrounding China’s latest outbreak, driven by a new variant. Here’s why it’s sparking concern:
China has admitted the scale of the outbreak has become “impossible” to track following the end of mandatory mass testing last month. The National Health Commission has stopped publishing daily nationwide infection and death statistics.
The global health body World Health Organisation has asked China for more data on genetic sequencing, hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations as more nations impose restrictions on arrivals from China amid a massive spike in Covid cases.
That responsibility has been transferred to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which will only publish figures once a month after China downgrades its management protocols for the disease on January 8.
China has only reported 15 Covid deaths since it began unwinding restrictions on December 7. But some reports say that 9,000 people are dying per day due to Covid. Overburdened hospitals and a rush at crematoriums are an indication that Covid data from China has become unreliable.
This has stoked concerns, and over 12 countries, including the United States, Australia, and Canada, said last week they were imposing testing restrictions on arrivals among other measures to check the spread of infection.
Many countries have cited concerns over potential new variants as a reason to screen Chinese arrivals for Covid. But there is as yet no evidence of new strains emerging from the current wave.
Top CDC official Xu Wenbo said last month that China was developing a national genetic database of Covid samples derived from hospital surveillance that would help track mutations.
Chinese health experts have said in recent days that the Omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7 are most prevalent in Beijing, in response to public fears that the Delta variant may still be circulating.
In many Western nations, these strains have been overtaken by the more transmissible subvariants XBB and BQ, which are not yet dominant in China.