China abandons reporting daily Covid-19 numbers as supply chain crisis looms

China has ditched reporting its daily Covid case numbers, as bodies pile up in the streets and while the official death toll remains stubbornly, and implausibly, below 10.

On Christmas Day, the communist nation revealed that daily Covid data will no longer be announced, according to Bloomberg, after copping heavy criticism from sceptics who found its numbers hard to swallow.

Three weeks ago, on December 3, Chinese President Xi Jinping abruptly abandoned his controversial zero-Covid policy amid unprecedented protests across the country, causing Covid-19 to rip through the population.

China’s Covid-19 outbreak is thought to be the “largest the world has ever seen” and as many as 248 million people likely contracted the virus in the first 20 days of December. Nearly 37 million people in China were estimated to have been infected with Covid-19 on a single day this week

Horrifying photos and videos have since emerged of bodies lying in hallways at hospitals and morgues, fever medication and oxygen tanks running out and also desperate calls for retired medical workers to return to hospitals to alleviate some of the pressure.

Yet China’s National Health Commission (NHC) has reported just seven deaths in the past three weeks and, as of December 23, its daily case numbers sat at only 4103.

If those numbers are to be believed, that means China, a country of 1.4 billion, has fewer cases than in Australia, with a population of 26 million, and which has also been living without strict Covid restrictions for the better part of a year.

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Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) admitted that China’s numbers don’t add up.

“In China, what’s been reported is relatively low numbers of cases in ICUs, but anecdotally ICUs are filling up,” WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan said last Wednesday.

He tried to give China the benefit of the doubt, adding: “I wouldn’t like to say that China is actively not telling us what’s going on. I think they’re behind the curve.”

Leaked minutes reveal true situation

China’s decision to dump the daily announcement comes as details of a leaked meeting revealed the country’s true grasp of the situation.

Several days ago, the NHC estimated the 248 million infection figure – meaning nearly 18 per cent of the population likely contracted the virus in the first 20 days of December.

Bloomberg obtained the minutes from an internal meeting of the NHC held on Wednesday which detailed the staggering number of infections and was massively higher than the numbers being released to the public.

China’s officially low Covid tally didn’t even match with that of state media or hospitals.

For instance, the city of Dongguan, in the southern province of Guangdong, revealed on Friday that between 250,000 to 300,000 residents were contracting the virus every day.

That’s more than the total number of infections supposedly recorded across the entire country.

Zhejiang Daily, a newspaper that covers the Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, reported more than a million people have been contracting Covid each day and expected the infection rate to peak at two million. The news outlet cited a local health briefing.

Looming global economic crisis

If the leaked figure Bloomberg obtained is true, that means China’s crisis is the largest the world has seen.

And it has dire implications not just for China, but also globally, including for Australia.

George Magnus, an economist and associate of Oxford University’s China Centre said China’s Covid infections could have a global impact.

“You are going to see supply chains getting choked up, ports will become congested, they won’t export as much and people won’t turn up for work because they are sick,” he told The Telegraph London.

“The question is how quickly the virus surges through the population – and if Beijing is anything to go by, it is happening very quickly.”

In 2020, the world’s shipping industry was nearly brought to a standstill when the virus first emerged thanks to China’s then strict Covid policies.

There are already signs of China’s internal supply chain imploding, with pictures emerging of packages dumped on the street amid a massive depot backlog as sickness causes a shortage in delivery drivers.

Experts are bracing for more than 60 per cent of the population to be infected in the coming weeks.

There are also fears a dangerous subvariant could form in the rapid-fire transmission among China’s huge population.

Daniel Lucey, a fellow at the Infectious Diseases Society of America and professor at Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine, previously told Bloomberg there would “certainly be more Omicron subvariants developing in China in the coming days, weeks and months”.

The World Health Organisation also rang the alarm bells, with director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus telling reporters on Wednesday that more information was needed as a matter of urgency.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman, on the other hand, claimed China had always released Covid-19 information in a “transparent” manner.

The outbreak is particularly worrying in a country with low vaccination rates among the elderly.

China has relied largely on its own vaccines, which have been proven less effective at preventing serious illness and deaths from Covid than the mRNA jabs used across the world.

– with Alexis Carey and Chloe Whelan

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