Beijing must quickly roll out booster shots and antiviral drugs, as well as impose social controls if China is to avoid a Covid-19 death toll of nearly 1 million, according to a new report co-funded by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention. diseases .
President Xi Jinping last week abandoned his zero-Covid strategy of mass testing, quarantines, citywide lockdowns and annoying electronic contact tracing. The decision sparked the largest uncontrolled surge of coronavirus cases in China since the pandemic began in Wuhan nearly three years ago.
According to the research paper, written by three professors from the University of Hong Kong, China can reduce the death toll during the reopening phase to 448-530 people per million. Given China’s population of 1.4 billion people, the model implies a best-case scenario of about 627,200 to 742,000 deaths.
Without the interventions, the death toll would be 684 people per million, or about 957,600 people, the modeling shows. This figure is in line with private sector forecasts reported by the Financial Times of around 1 million deaths during a winter surge of infections. The United States, with a population of 330 million people, suffered 1.1 million deaths.
The model calls for fourth-dose vaccination coverage and antiviral coverage of 85% and 60%, respectively, as well as public health measures and social restrictions to significantly reduce the transmission rate. By the end of November, more than 90% of the population had received two vaccinations, but less than 60% had received a third, with vaccine uptake among the elderly posing a major problem.
“Although the increased disease burden caused by the reopening in December 2022-January 2023 would likely overburden many local health systems across the country, the combined effect of vaccination, antiviral treatment and [public health and social measures] could substantially reduce the morbidity and mortality of Covid-19 as China transitions from dynamic zero to normal,” says the report, also funded by the Hong Kong government.
“Planning for such a nationally coordinated reopening should be an urgent priority.”
The new model was released as data on China’s industrial production and retail sales missed estimates in November, underscoring the impact of widespread lockdowns on manufacturing and consumer demand.
Industrial production, which includes manufacturing, utilities and mining, grew 2.2% year-over-year, well below economists’ expectations of 3.6% growth.
Retail sales, a leading indicator of consumer spending, which has lagged during the pandemic, fell 5.9% year over year versus expectations for a 3.7% contraction.
The economy has struggled under the twin pressures of zero-Covid lockdowns and a slowdown in the real estate sector, which have made it difficult to stimulate both consumer demand and investment. The country’s exports have also suffered in recent months due to the deteriorating global economic climate and weakening demand.
“China’s activity data came in worse than expected, suggesting that Covid restrictions have further slowed economic activities, particularly on consumption,” said Hao Zhou, chief economist at Guotai Junan International.
“Industrial production also contracted, indicating both domestic and external slowdowns,” he added. “Weak activity data suggests that . . . policy needs to be further eased to revive the growth momentum”.