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Beijing expects COVID surge as mutation risks worry experts

Beijing faces a surge in severe COVID-19 cases over the next two weeks, a respiratory expert in China said, amid global concerns about possible mutations and knock-on effects for the world economy after the recent surprise lifting of strict zero-COVID from China. policies

The easing of restrictions in China coincided with a surge in infections that experts say will likely accelerate over the winter, with some projections even suggesting China could face more than a million deaths next year, the news agency reported. Reuters news.

“We must act quickly and prepare fever clinics, emergency resources and severe treatment,” Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the country’s state-run Global Times on Tuesday.

Wang said hospitals should expand ICU beds as a priority and the COVID-19 peak will likely last until the end of China’s Spring Festival on Jan. 22.

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Then the COVID-19 cases will decline and life should gradually return to normal around the end of February and early March, Wang said.

After the spike, people should not let down their guard, Wang added, describing the “terrible consequences” if the virus were to transfer between humans and animals again.

“The current strain of COVID-19 may be less virulent, but it may not act in the same way in animals. It may seem less serious for animals, but at some point, the virus can still jump to humans, with dire consequences,” Wang said.

Following widespread protests in China earlier this month, the country of 1.4 billion people began to dismantle its “zero-COVID” lockdowns and testing, which had largely kept the virus out for three years at great economic and psychological costs. .

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Narrow definition of deaths from COVID-19

China, which uses a narrow definition of what can be classified as COVID deaths, reported no new COVID deaths on December 20, up from five the day before.

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The nation’s overall deaths since the pandemic began was revised to 5,241 after removing one death in Beijing.

Amid doubts about the very low number of COVID deaths in China by global standards, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) clarified on Tuesday that only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting the virus are classified as such as COVID deaths.

A heart attack or cardiovascular disease that causes the death of an infected person will not get that classification.

Benjamin Mazer, an assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, said China’s staging system would miss “a lot of cases,” especially since people who are vaccinated, even with Chinese shots, are less likely to die of pneumonia. .

Blood clots and sepsis, an extreme response to infection, have caused countless deaths among COVID patients around the world.

“It makes no sense to apply this kind of March 2020 mentality where only COVID pneumonia can kill you, when we know that in the post-vaccine era there are all kinds of medical complications,” Mazer said.

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The NHC also downplayed concerns raised by the United States and some epidemiologists about the possibility of the virus mutating in China, saying the chance of new strains that are more pathogenic is low.

Several leading scientists and advisers to the World Health Organization said it may be too soon to declare the end of the emergency phase of the global COVID pandemic due to a potentially devastating wave looming in China.

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The United States said on Tuesday it was ready to help China with its outbreak, warning that an uncontrolled spread in the world’s second-largest economy could have implications for global growth.

The full effects of getting rid of “zero COVID” remain highly uncertain given China’s patchy vaccine coverage, fragile health system, and a lack of clarity about the true extent of infections as cases begin to rise.

Some hospitals in China have already been inundated with patients and some cities are grappling with drug and blood shortages as pharmacy shelves are empty and crematoriums are overwhelmed after years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing.

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From the northeast to the southwest of the country, crematoria workers told Agence France-Presse that they are struggling to keep up with rising deaths.

Beijing admitted last week that the scale of the outbreak has become “impossible” to trace following the end of mandatory mass testing.

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