China has declared a “decisive victory” over the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming the world’s lowest death rate, although experts have questioned Beijing’s data as the coronavirus surged across the country after largely being kept at bay for three years.
The world’s most populated nation abruptly ended its zero-COVID policy in early December, with 80 percent of its 1.4 billion population becoming infected, a prominent government scientist said last month.
“With continuous efforts to optimise COVID-19 prevention and control measures since November 2022, China’s COVID-19 response has made a smooth transition in a relatively short time,” China’s Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) said in a meeting on Thursday.
“A major decisive victory in epidemic prevention and control has been achieved,” it said, adding that China’s efforts led to more than 200 million people getting medical treatment, including nearly 800,000 severe cases.
Though there were widespread reports of packed hospital wards and mortuaries, China recorded only about 80,000 COVID deaths in hospitals in the two months after dropping its curbs.
Some experts say the actual toll was far higher, as many patients died at home and doctors were widely reported to have been discouraged from reporting COVID as a cause of death.
Nevertheless, leaders cautioned that while the situation is improving, the virus is still spreading globally and continues to mutate, according to state media. The meeting stressed that China will increase the vaccination rate for the elderly, and strengthen the supply and production of medical goods.
The PSC, China’s most powerful leadership body, urged all localities and departments to strengthen the medical service system, according to the report from the official Xinhua news agency.
The statement did not say how many people had died from COVID, and comes weeks before China holds its annual parliamentary session and as policymakers look to revive an economy battered by three years of COVID restrictions.
China was forced to change its signature “zero-COVID” policy last month after protests erupted in more than 20 Chinese cities following an apartment building fire that killed at least 10 people on November 25. It was claimed that victims had been locked in their apartments as part of COVID measures, but authorities have said that was not the case.
Many nations and world bodies have questioned China’s COVID numbers in recent months.
In January, the World Health Organization said China was underrepresenting the true effect of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, criticising its “very narrow” definition of COVID deaths.
Despite fears that the enormous migration of travellers during the Lunar New Year would lead to an explosion of cases, the government recently said the COVID situation was at a “low level” after the holidays.