China Downplays COVID Threat from Lunar New Year Travel

Although some experts predict that the past weekend’s celebrations of China’s lunar new year will hasten the spread of COVID-19 to rural parts of the country, one of the country’s top scientists has disputed this.

Wu Zunyou, China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s chief epidemiologist, downplayed the risk on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo, claiming that 80% of Chinese people had already been infected before the week-long celebrations.


On this past Sunday, international travel restrictions in and out of China were lifted, while lockdowns and other measures to curb domestic travel have also been lifted in past weeks, enabling many people to travel to see their families in rural areas for the first time in three years.


Global health analytics company Airfinity said last week that it had “updated its cases and deaths forecast for China’s COVID-19 outbreak as the lunar new year holiday hastens the spread of the virus”. 

It had initially predicted two COVID waves, but Airfinity’s analytics director Dr Matt Linley said that it “now expects to see one larger and more prolonged wave with infections reaching a higher peak”.

Airfinity’s new model predicts that, between 1 December 2022 when restrictions were lifted, and 17 January 2023, 99.5 million people were infected (up from its December prediction of 72.9 million). This squares with Wu Zunyou’s assertion about mass infections happening before the new year celebrations.

Airfinity COVID-19 predictions for China, 1 December 2022 – 1 April 2023

Linley warned that provinces such as Hubei and Henan “could see patient demand for intensive care beds being six times hospital capacity”, and that there would be .”a significant burden on China’s healthcare system for the next fortnight”.

However, unlike China’s very low official mortality data, Airfinity’s new model estimates daily deaths to have been 32,200 by 17 January with cumulative deaths from 1 December 2022 to 17 January to be 608,000.

“Deaths are forecast to peak at 36,000 a day on 26 January during the lunar new year festival. This is up from our previous estimate of deaths peaking at 25,000 a day,” said Aifinity. 

It warned that one larger wave as opposed to two smaller ones meant “increased pressure on hospitals and crematoriums and therefore also potentially a higher case fatality ratio”.

Meanwhile, the full extent of COVID-19’s impact is unlikely to surface after Chinese authorities announced an internet crackdown on people spreading “false information” and “gloomy sentiments” about COVID-19 for a month around the new year festivities, according to The Guardian.

Previously, social media has been filled with stories about families reporting on relatives’ infections and their struggles to get Pfizer’s anti-viral medicine, Paxlovid, the black marker price of which has soared.

Paxlovid is not covered by Chinese medical insurance because of its high price.

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