China claims Covid wave is ‘coming to an end’ as tourism and factory activity rebound

Government figures, which cannot be verified, showed big rises in travel and hospitality activity during lunar new year compared to the same time last year

China’s wave of Covid is “coming to an end”, health officials have claimed, saying there had been no sign of a new surge from the lunar new year holiday period, despite a big increase in travel compared to last year.

Government figures released on Tuesday showed big rises in tourism and hospitality activity compared to the same time last year. Factory activity has also rebounded for the first time in four months, an early sign of economic return after the country reported its slowest growth in about half a century during strict Covid controls.

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‘It was all for nothing’: Chinese count cost of Xi’s snap decision to let Covid rip

After three years of lockdowns, the country was ill prepared for its abrupt ‘freedom’. Now, with some estimating 1m deaths, public anger is growing

When Sunny* thinks back to March last year, she laughs ruefully at the ordeal. The 19-year-old Shanghai student spent that month locked in her dormitory, unable to shop for essentials or wash clothes, even banned from showering for two weeks over Covid fears. In April, the entire city locked down.

It was the beginning of the chaos of 2022, as local Chinese authorities desperately tried to follow President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid decree while facing the most virulent strain of the virus yet: Omicron. “Everyone was panicking, no one was ready,” she tells the Observer.

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China claims Covid wave has peaked with severe cases, deaths falling fast

But reporting from inside China during the lunar new year period suggests rates of infection and fatalities exceeding official reports

China’s health authorities have said the Covid wave is past its peak, with rapid decline in both severe cases and deaths in hospitals, but experts remain wary of the government’s official data.

According to China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), the number of critically ill patients in hospital peaked in the first week of January, then rapidly declined by more than 70%. The number of deaths also reached its highest level that week, the data said.

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North Korea locks down capital Pyongyang over respiratory illness

Residents told that rising cases mean they must stay home for five days and do frequent temperature checks

Authorities in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, have ordered a five-day lockdown due to rising cases of an unspecified respiratory illness, Seoul-based NK News reported on Wednesday, citing a government notice.

The notice did not mention Covid-19, but said that residents in the city were required to stay in their homes until the end of Sunday and submit to temperature checks multiple times each day, according to NK News, which monitors North Korea.

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Eight in 10 people in China caught Covid since early December, say officials

Reported death toll surges to 72,000 after zero-Covid restrictions lifted; some experts estimate 1m deaths

About 80% of China’s population has been infected with Covid-19 since restrictions were lifted in early December, Chinese health authorities have said.

The figure, which equates to about 1.2 billion people, prompted some pandemic experts to estimate that more than 1 million may have died – far more than the government’s official tally of about 72,000.

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Xi’s authority dented by sudden Covid U-turn but iron grip on power is undimmed

Analysts say Xi has consolidated power so successfully that he is in effect the Communist party. With no opposition, it doesn’t matter if he makes mistakes

Just a few months ago, the thought of questioning the strength of Xi Jinping’s leadership was inconceivable. He had just secured his third term, conducted a brutal purge of factional rivals and ensured he and his beliefs were inextricably and existentially tied with the Chinese Communist party. The zero-Covid policy – despite some societal grumblings – had been enshrined as the best and only way out of the pandemic.

But zero Covid was already growing unpopular in China in the latter half of 2022. It was playing havoc with people’s lives with increasing lockdowns and quarantines, and a string of tragedies had been linked to the policy’s enforcement. Then in early December, after protests in major Chinese cities and rising cases of Omicron, the government suddenly ended the policy. Travel restrictions, quarantines, mandatory tests and other restrictions were drastically scaled back or dropped altogether.

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农历年将至,医学专家预期疫情将会迅速蔓延。中国当局表示自 12 月 8 日取消清零政策以来,中国医院已有将近6万例与新冠病毒染疫相关的死亡。


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China announces lunar new year censorship crackdown to silence Covid ‘rumours’

Plan to target ‘gloomy sentiments’ across festival period comes as independent health forecasters estimate over 600,000 deaths from Covid

Chinese cyber authorities have announced an internet censorship crackdown to ensure there are no “gloomy sentiments” caused by pandemic “rumours” during the lunar new year festival.

It comes as health forecasting firm Airfinity estimated more than 600,000 people have likely died since zero-Covid restrictions were lifted in December – 10 times more than Chinese authorities have officially declared.

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China’s economy slows sharply with GDP growth among worst on record

The economy grew 3% in 2022, exceeding some forecasts, but still well below China’s official target for the year

China’s GDP expanded at its slowest pace since the mid-1970s bar the Covid-hit 2020 year, as the world’s second-largest economy struggled under tight pandemic restrictions that were abruptly ditched late in 2022.

The economy grew 3% last year, well shy of the 5.5% pace the government had targeted at the start of the year and the 8.1% recorded for 2021. The actual rate though, was better than the 2.7% predicted by the World Bank earlier this month.

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China braces for Covid surge as lunar new year travel rush begins

Travellers leave cities for countryside amid warnings for most vulnerable and huge increase in official coronavirus death toll

Luggage-laden passengers flocked to railway stations and airports in China’s megacities on Monday, heading home for holidays that health experts fear could intensify a Covid-19 outbreak that has claimed thousands of lives.

After three years of strict and suffocating anti-virus controls, China in early December abruptly abandoned its zero-Covid policy, letting the virus run freely through its population of 1.4 billion.

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Nearly 60,000 people have died of Covid in China in past five weeks

Death toll only of those who died in hospital and true figure likely to be higher, although officials say peak has passed in most areas

Almost 60,000 people have died of Covid in Chinese hospitals since early December when the country relaxed its strict lockdown restrictions, authorities have announced.

A major wave of the virus has gripped the country after President Xi Jinping abruptly lifted zero-Covid policy restrictions last month. It is estimated that some major cities have experienced infection rates of between 70% and 90% of their populations since then.

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Chinese flock to Hong Kong to get private Covid booster shots

Travel packages also advertised in Macau as interest grows in mRNA vaccines unavailable on mainland

Private services offering Chinese travellers access to mRNA vaccines are attracting droves of mainlanders to Hong Kong and Macau seeking a booster shot that their government has refused to approve.

As part of its dismantling of the country’s zero-Covid policy last month, China’s government also lifted quarantine and other border restrictions. It prompted a wave of interest in overseas travel, particularly for the upcoming lunar new year holiday later this month. However, there also appears to be a large contingent chasing the mRNA bivalent vaccines.

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Chinese warned not to visit elderly relatives as Covid spreads from cities

People urged ‘don’t go home’ during lunar new year holiday if older family members not yet infected

People in China have been warned against travelling to visit their elderly relatives during the lunar new year holiday, as Covid spreads rapidly through cities and into regional and poorer areas.

Prof Guo Jianwen, a member of the state council’s pandemic prevention team, urged people “don’t go home to visit them” if elderly relatives had not yet been infected.

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Tokyo lodges protest after China punishes Japanese travellers over Covid test requirements

Japan says Beijing’s decision to halt visa processing is ‘extremely regrettable’, amid uncertainty as to whether China will take action against other countries

Japan has lodged a protest with Beijing over its decision to suspend the issuance of visas to Japanese citizens in retaliation for Covid testing requirements for travellers from China.

Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno characterised the move as an act of revenge rather than a public health measure and requested China reverse the decision. “It is regrettable that China unilaterally has taken visa suspension action for reasons other than steps for the coronavirus,” he said on Wednesday.

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China halts short-term visas for South Korea and Japan over Covid travel curbs

Beijing had said it would retaliate against countries that require negative tests from Chinese travellers

China has suspended issuing short-term visas in South Korea and Japan after announcing it would retaliate against countries that required negative Covid-19 tests from Chinese travellers.

China has ditched mandatory quarantines for arrivals and allowed travel to resume across its border with Hong Kong since Sunday, removing the last major restrictions under the “zero-Covid” regime that it abruptly began dismantling in early December after protests against the curbs.

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