US and Australia Lift COVID-19 Travel Restrictions on China as World’s Biggest Outbreak Ends
A COVID-19 sanitation worker in Dalian, a port city in China’s Liaoning Province

The US and Australia lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions on Chinese travellers last Friday and Saturday respectively, effectively acknowledging that the world’s biggest pandemic outbreak is over.

Until the weekend, Chinese citizens had to present a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery to enter either country.

In late January, the Chinese government reported that 80% of the country had been infected by the virus – but insisted that its death toll was very low. However, this was mainly because it had a very narrow definition of deaths, only recognising those who have died of a respiratory illness and have had a scan to confirm lung damage caused by the virus. 

Trying to get a full picture of the pandemic’s trajectory in China has been difficult as, once it had abandoned its strict zero-COVID policy, China’s National Health Commission also stopped issuing detailed public reports, publishing the last report on 24 December 2022.

The most recent COVID-19 report by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) shows that the country’s pandemic outbreak peaked on 23 December with 6.94 million positive COVID-19 tests being recorded on 23 December. 

That same day, China CDC reported that over 2,8 million people visited “fever clinics”. In contrast, only 481,000 people visited these clinics on 9 March, 2023, representing a decrease of 83.2% from the peak 

Meanwhile, hospitalisations peaked at 1.625 million on 5 January this year but plummeted by 99% to  8,629 on 9 March.

However, according to China CDC, hospital deaths peaked at 4,273 on 4 January but by 9 March, there were no COVID-related deaths.

Official Chinese figures reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) show that over 99 million Chinese were infected with COVID-19, but there have been only 120,227 deaths by 7 March.

However, independent health analytics company Airfinity modelled that daily deaths would reach 32,200 by 17 January with cumulative deaths from 1 December 2022 to 17 January to be 608,000 – almost three times the total fatalities reported by China to date.

“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 Airfinity. 

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 lunar new year festivities in late January, according to The Guardian.

By 9 March, over 90% of the Chinese population – 1.28 billion people – had received the recommended two vaccines, while over 827 million people had received their first booster dose.

Last Friday, the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress, re-elected Xi Jinping as the country’s president for a third term, something that was already assured by the Communist Party congress last October,

However, Ma Xiaowei, the head of the National Health Commission scraped back into the position with the lowest number of votes, facing 21 objections and eight abstentions. Ma is blamed for the country’s zero-COVID policy that locked down millions of people for months at a time, and forced others into quarantine camps.

Image Credits: Jida Li/Unsplash.

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