01/12/2023, 13.45
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Covid emergency endangers 200 million Chinese seniors

The World Health Organisation is sounding the alarm: Infections are bound to rise during Lunar New Year holidays. Although the authorities are not providing data, unofficial indicators point to an unprecedented number of deaths among seniors. Xi Jinping now risks losing face (and power).

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the pandemic crisis in China will worsen with the Lunar New Year festivities, putting some 200 million seniors at risk, since most have not even been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Chinese Lunar New Year, which begins on 21 January, traditionally involves the movement of hundreds of millions of Chinese.

This comes just weeks after Xi Jinping abrupt scrapped his zero-Covid policy. Chinese authorities lifted draconian health restrictions in early December, spurred on by unusual popular protests.

Although no official data have been provided, the picture is very complicated. Hospitals are swamped with patients, especially in the less equipped rural areas, a situation aggravated by the lack of staff because they too are infected.

Pharmacies have run out of flu drugs (or sell them at exorbitant prices), while few civil society groups can help with volunteer activities.

Observers note that since restrictions were lifted the number of deaths among seniors is at an all-time high, as evinced by the long queues outside crematoria. The same occurred at the start of the pandemic in Wuhan (Hubei) where the pulmonary disease first appeared.

Unofficial figures are available thanks to information provided by local work units (Danwei), university bulletin boards and the Internet; for example, the number of deaths among retired teachers is substantial.

As Nikkei Asia reported, lawyers in various parts of the country have petitioned the authorities to save the elderly population. They are calling for mass imports of effective medicines and for domestic production to be boosted.

Foreign vaccines, which are more effective than domestic ones, and a more extensive vaccination campaign are needed.

The World Health Organisation has not spared the Chinese government from its criticism over the lack of accurate data and transparency; however, this reflects Beijing’s attitude since the start of the pandemic when it denied there was a health emergency in the country.

According to official statistics, China reported just over 10 million deaths in 2021. While last year's numbers are not yet in, some studies conducted outside China predict over a million deaths from COVID-19 in 2023.

Analysts note that the Chinese government wants to save face at any cost. Its power is also based on the consent of the majority of the population, who directly or indirectly contribute to the implementation of national policies.

Without public support, Xi and his associates could not survive politically, and to maintain it they must achieve concrete results.

A humanitarian catastrophe caused by COVID-19 at a time when economic recovery is still faltering would have a major impact on Chinese society, as did Mao’s disasters: the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).


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