China could see nearly a million deaths after abrupt exit from zero-Covid policy

Chinas abrupt and under-prepared exit from zero-Covid policy could lead to nearly one million deaths, according to a new study, as the country

braces for an unprecedented wave of infections spreading out from its biggest cities to its vast rural areas, as per a media report.

For nearly three years, the Chinese government has used strict lockdowns, centralised quarantines, mass testing and rigorous contact tracing to curb the spread of the virus, CNN reported.

That costly strategy was abandoned earlier this month, following an explosion of protests across the country against stringent restrictions that upended businesses and daily life.

But experts have warned that the country is poorly prepared for such a drastic exit, having fallen short on bolstering the elderly vaccination rate, upping surge and intensive care capacity in hospitals, and stockpiling antiviral medications.

Under the current conditions, a nationwide reopening could result in up to 684 deaths per million people, according to the projections by three professors at the University of Hong Kong, CNN reported.

Given China’s population of 1.4 billion people, that would amount to 964,400 deaths.

The surge of infections would “likely overload many local health systems across the country”, said the research paper released last week on the Medrxiv preprint server, which is yet to undergo peer review.

Simultaneously lifting restrictions in all provinces would lead to hospitalisation demands 1.5 to 2.5 times of surge hospital capacity, according to the study, CNN reported.

But this worst case scenario could be avoided if China rapidly rolls out booster shots and antiviral drugs.

With fourth-dose vaccination coverage of 85 per cent and antiviral coverage of 60 per cent, the death toll can be reduced by 26 per cent to 35 per cent, according to the

study, which is funded partly by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Hong Kong government, CNN reported.

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