October 2, 2023

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Chinese cities are battling the first wave of the COVID outbreak as a wider spread looms

Chinese cities are battling the first wave of the COVID outbreak as a wider spread looms

BEIJING (Reuters) – The streets of major Chinese cities were quiet on Sunday as people stayed home to protect themselves from a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus that has hit urban centers from north to south.

China is currently the first of three expected waves of COVID cases this winter, according to the country’s chief epidemiologist, Wu Zunyou. Cases could multiply across the country if people follow normal travel patterns to return to their home regions on mass transit for the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

China has yet to officially report any Covid deaths since Dec. 7, when the country abruptly ended most major restrictions of its zero-tolerance coronavirus policy after unprecedented public protests against the protocol. President Xi Jinping has defended the strategy.

As part of the easing of no-COVID restrictions, mass testing for the virus has ended, casting doubt on whether officially reported case numbers can capture the full scale of the outbreak. China reported about 2,097 new cases of COVID-19 on December 17.

In Beijing, the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has already affected services from catering to package delivery. Funeral homes and crematoriums across the city of 22 million are also struggling to keep up with demand.

Social media posts also showed empty subway stations in the northwestern Chinese city of Xi’an, while netizens complained of delivery delays.

Streets in Chengdu are deserted, but food delivery times are improving after services have begun to adjust to the recent surge in cases, said a resident surnamed Zhang.

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She said obtaining antigen test kits remains difficult. She said, quoting the provider, that her latest application has been forwarded to hospitals.

1 peak, 3 waves, 3 months

In Shanghai, authorities said schools must move most classes online from Monday, and in the nearby city of Hangzhou, most classes have been encouraged to end the winter term early.

Those attending online classes as well as pre-school students should not prepare for going back to school, said the Guangzhou Bureau of Education.

Speaking at a conference in Beijing on Saturday, the chief epidemiologist from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the current outbreak will peak this winter and will continue in three waves for about three months, according to a state media report of his speech.

The first wave will extend from mid-December to mid-January, largely in cities, before the second wave begins from late January to mid-February next year, due to the movement of people before the week-long New Year holidays.

China celebrates the Lunar New Year, which begins on January 21.

Wu said the third wave of cases will continue from late February to mid-March as people returned to work after the holidays.

A US-based think tank said this week that the country could see an explosion in the number of cases and that more than 1 million people in China could die from COVID in 2023. Read more

Wu said severe cases in China have declined over the past years, and that the vaccination that has already taken place has offered some degree of protection. He said vulnerable people in the community should be protected, with booster vaccines recommended for the general public.

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Nearly 87% of those over the age of 60 have been fully vaccinated, but only 66.4% of people over the age of 80 have completed a full course of vaccination, Xinhua said.

Additional reporting by Dominic Button, Si Liu, Ryan Wu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.