China lifts quarantine requirements for inbound travelers amid COVID-19 surge

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Jan. 8 (UPI) — Mainland China has reopened its borders without quarantine measures though COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging at astronomical yet inprecise levels, a stark contrast to its previous “zero tolerance” of the virus.

Meanwhile, cases declined on every continent in the past week. Worldwide infections dropped 17% to 2,897,108 for a cumulative 6,713,479 so far Sunday. Fatalities were down 11% for 11,484 for a total 668,580,025, according to Worldometers.info.

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Those statistics don’t include the true number for Mainland China.

On Sunday, China lifted quarantine requirements for inbound travelers and opened its border to Hong Kong.

Saturday was the first day of chun yun, the 40-day period of lunar new year travel. Before the pandemic it was the world’s largest annual migration of people. The lunar new year public holiday begins Jan. 21.

“New year is coming and … many are traveling home, but we’re bracing for more chaos,” one person wrote online, according to The Guardian. “Many are sick with fever. Hospitals and pharmacies are overwhelmed. The experts say everyone can go home for the new year, but how can we not prepare for another massive outbreak?”

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“There is a huge outbreak on the mainland now and if I get infected while being back home, I won’t be able to return for the new term,” a Chinese student studying in Hong Kong told the Guardian.

The first international flight to land in China was China Southern Airlines’ CZ312 between the Canadian city of Toronto and Guangzhou at 12:16 am on Sunday, state media China Daily reported.

Since March 10, passengers arriving in Beijing had been required to enter the airport’s Terminal 3-D before undergoing a mandatory multiple-day quarantine at a designated hotel.

Nations elsewhere are taking opposite measures. The United States, England Spain, France, South Korea, India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan have all imposed Covid tests for travelers from China.

Also, the World Health Organization has accused China of “under-representing” the severity the impact and a “narrow” definition of what constitutes a Covid death.

China, which has the world’s largest population at more than 1.4 billion, no longer is reporting asymtomatic cases and has closed a network of PCR testing sites. People who are using rapid antigen tests to detect infections are under no obligation to report positive results.

And only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting the virus are classified as COVID deaths.

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“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease and death,” he said.

According to government data, in one week deaths rose by 20 to 5,269 in 89th place worldwide. The previous week the number grew by eight. Before a spike in April, which necessitated a lockdown, it was 4,636, which stayed at that number since early February 2021.

And confirmed cases have hit 489,131 in 96th place. Sunday’s infections were 7,074 with 53,659 in one week, a 63% gain.

China’s record is 5,659 daily on April 29, not counting 14,108 on Feb. 8, 2020 early in record reporting.

Before asymptomatic tests were dropped 25 days ago, the record was 39,791.

In reality, around 14,700 people a day are dying, according to the British-based data firm Airfinity on Friday, compared with 9,000 estimate a week ago. The cases estimate is 2.7 million with a peak of 3.7 million on Jan. 13 but the model estimates a second peak will occur on March 3 where daily cases are likely to reach 4.2 million. Rural areas with be more impacted in this later wave, according to the model.

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Airfinity predicts cases in Beijing, the capital city, likely have peaked by now.

An American group, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, estimated up to half a million deaths by April and another million by the end of 2023 if China rejects social-distancing mandates according to a reported pulished on Dec. 20.

Subvariants of the Omicron coronavirus variant, including the newest, XBB.1.5, are circulating worldwide, including China. Though the variant, known as Kraken, is slightly less immune evasive of vaccines and infections, it is the “most transmissible subvariant detected yet,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for COVID-19 response at the WHO, said at a news conference Wednesday.

“The reason for this are the mutations that are within this subvariant of omicron allowing this virus to adhere to the cell and replicate easily.”

XBB.1.5 must be “closely monitored, and the development of effective neutralizing antibodies and vaccines against XBB.1.5 is urgently needed,” wrote the study’s authors, including Dr. Yunlong Cao of Peking University in Beijing.

The nation is only allowing its domestic-produced vaccines, which are not as effective as other ones, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

China is not reporting hospitalization data to the WHO since it ended restrictions.

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Hong Kong, like China, has adopted a “zero tolerance” for coronavirus with strong restrictions eased, including hotel quarantine for arrivals from other nations.

Hong Kong reported 66 deaths and 14,113 cases with the record 79,876 on March 3.

A total of 45,558 people as of 8 p.m. had crossed the border going either direction at four land ports and one ferry terminal, 33,132 were bound for the mainland, the South China Morning Post reported.

The Lok Ma Chau checkpoint recorded 21,484 cross-border travelers going in either direction.

There is a 60,000 daily quota of Kong Kong travelers.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu after a visit to the checkpoint said travel had been smooth and orderly.

Hong Kong travelers must register on an online platform and mainland residents will have to make a booking on the Shenzhen government’s website.

Travelers must also have negative PCR test result done within 48 hours of departure.

On Sunday, Taiwan reported 23,411 cases and 36 deaths.

Seven days ago, nearly 28% of the 524 passenger arrivals from mainland China at Taiwan’s top international airport tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center.

Starting Jan. 1, Taiwan is requiring travelers from the mainland to take a saliva-based test when arriving.

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World data

The seven-day average of 1,641 deaths are among the lowest since 1,232 March 22, 2020, 11 days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

On Saturday, 925 deaths and 391,214 cases were reported.

Some nations do not report data on weekends. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has gone to weekly updates.

The records were 3,850,119 cases on Jan. 21, during the height of the Omicron subvariant, and 16,882 deaths on Jan. 21, 2021, when the Delta subvariant was at its peak. Worldometers sometimes updates totals from as far back as the start of the pandemic.

In the past week, Asia reported 65.2% of the world’s confirmed cases, up from 30.9% three weeks ago, and it decreased 2% for a cumulative 209,300,751, according to Worldometers.info. The continent has 59% percent of the world’s population.

Decreases were Europe 41% for a world-high 243,622,673, South America 38% for 67,175,673, North America 37% for 122,004,226, Africa 30% for 12,745,763, Oceania 18% for 13,730,218.

Only Oceania reported an increase in deaths: 24% for 23,701.

Decreasing were Africa 68% for 258,374, North America 28% for 1,582,327, South America 15% for 1,343,494, Europe 10% for a world-high 1,989,050, Asia 3% for 1,516,518 .

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Only Mainland China, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico reported increases in both deaths and cases in the past week.

Japan again posted the most weekly cases, 1,070,496 in a 2% decrease and was first again in deaths at 2,149, a 4% drop.

South Korea again was second in infections with 414,561, a 10% decrease with deaths 400, a 3% gain drop in ninth.

The U.S. was third in infections with with 224,309 but a 43% decrease and second in deaths again at 1,572, a 29% drop.

The only other cases’ increase among nations with at least 25,000: Taiwan 11% in fourth at 184,420, Australia 6% in 10th at 66,178, Mainland China 56% in 11th at 51,723, Mexico 172% in 12th at 36,543.

Decreases in the past week in descending order were Brazil 24% in fifth at 146,086, Germany 12% in sixth at 139,674, Hong Kong 20% in seventh at 130,194, Italy 34% in eighth at 86,851, France 46% in ninth at 85,153, Russia 39% in 13th at 25,346, Chile 20% in 14th at 25,207.

Among nations reporting more than 100 deaths with increases in the past week: Germany 75% in third at 1,223, Hong Kong 19% in eighth at 469, Spain 273 in 11th at 273, Taiwan 42% in 12th at 253, Australia 71% in 13th at 236, Mexico 91% in 14th at 164, Denmark 209% in 16th at 142

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Decreases were Brazil 9% in fourth at 959, Britain 29% in fifth at 745, France 22% in sixth at 629, Italy 33% in seventh at 499, South Korea 3% in ninth at 400, Russia 15% in 10th at 323, Chile 1% in 15th at 158, Peru 45% in 17th at 124.

The United States leads with 1,121,089 fatalities and 103,081,401 infections. The nation also holds the world record for daily cases at 907,000 on Jan. 7. Brazil is second in deaths at 694,900, including 77 Saturday, and fifth in cases at 37,500,341 including 13,320 most recently.

India is second in cases at 44,679,924, including 161 Sunday and third in deaths at 530,720 including zero most recently.

India has the daily deaths record at 4,529 on May 18, 2021, with no adjustments from regions.

In the top 10 for deaths, Russia is fourth with 394,080 including 45 Sunday, Mexico is fifth with 331,263, Peru sixth with 218,356, Britain seventh with 201,028, Italy eighth with 185,417, Germany back up to ninth with 162,688, France 19th with 162,643.

In the top 10 for cases, France is third with 39,401,170 including 8,961 Saturday, Germany fourth with 37,509,539, Japan sixth with 30,283,031 including 238,654 Sunday, South Korea seventh with 29,473,834 including 53,608 Sunday, Italy eighth with 25,279,682, Britain ninth with 24,210,131, Russia 10th with 21,826,982 including 3,127 Sunday.

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On Friday, Japan reported 245,542 cases, the most since 255,810 Aug. 20, with 238,654 Saturday, the most in the world that day.

Japan’s seven-day moving case average is 152,958 compared with 26,325 Oct. 12 and under 20,000 in early July with the daily record 255,316 Aug. 18.

And deaths Sunday were 407 after a record 463 Saturday and 456 Friday. The seven-day average is 307, a record.

On Friday, Toho University Professor Tateda Kazuhiro said the daily tally could reach 450,000 nationwide after mid-January.

Tateda warned the hospitals are overburdened, including handling a simultaneous outbreak of seasonal influenza.

Those with low risk of developing severe symptoms should use test kits and recuperate at home to reduce the strain at hospitals.

Yoshihito Niki, a visiting professor of infectious diseases at Showa University in Tokyo, told The Asahi Shimbun, the number of new cases may well be much higher than the figures released by the health ministry because numerous patients at home are never diagnosed by doctors because the government switched priority last autumn to conserve medical resources.

“Becoming used to COVID-19 and letting down one’s guard may also be factors,” said Niki, who blamed the government’s decision to relax rules to enter Japan and an absence of other restrictions.

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Throughout the pandemic Japan has had a low deaths rate though it is rising significantly.

Japan has 476 deaths per million, which is 139th in the nation, with the world at 861.3 and Peru No. 1 at 6,482. In cases, Japan’s rate is 242,653 per million in 93rd place with the world 85,773 and Austria the highest among large countries at 631,573 with France 600,769, South Korea 575,115, Portugal 548,090 and Denmark 543,254. Japan’s population is 125 million.

South Korea’s seven-day cases average is 59,223 but it reached 404,626 on March 19, when the daily record was 621,328 on March 17. The nation reported 53,608 cases Saturday, second most in world.

South Korea’s fatalities Sunday were 34.

In the United States through Dec. 15, the CDC has classified 19.5% of counties, districts and territories with a “high” category transmission level, compared with 41.9% “medium” and 38.5% “low.” In “high” locations, scattered mainly in the Southeast, Plains and Texas, masks are urged indoors.

Three weeks ago it was 9.2% “high” with no reports published for two weeks.

The CDC reported 470,699 cases in the past week, one week after 404,932 and two weeks after 487,628, the most since 526,236 Sept. 7. Eleven weeks ago it was 260,450, the lowest since 229,301 April 13. The record was 5,629,975 Jan. 19. And the deaths average was 2,731, two weeks after 2,919, five weeks after 1,764, the lowest since July 7, 2021 of 1,690. The record was 23,387 Jan. 13, 2021.

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The predominant Omicron subvariant BQ.1.1 represented 34.4% of the total cases in the week ending Saturday with XBB.1.5 at 27.6%, BQ.1 at 21.4%. BA.5, which had dominated since the early summer, dropped to 3.7%. Omicron overall totals 100%.

XBB.1.5 is the only Omicron subvariant showing growth in the United States.

In its weekly report Thursday, the CDC said the U.S. adult one-shot vaccination rate was 91.8% with completed primary service at 78.7% and updated booster doses 17.3%. The full population rates are 80.8% for one shot, 69% for completed primary and 15.1% updated booster 5 and older.

In its weekly report Thursday, the CDC said the U.S. adult one-shot vaccination rate was 91.8% with completed primary service at 78.8% and updated booster doses 17.7%. The full population rates are 80.9% for one shot, 69.1% for completed primary and 15.4% updated booster 5 and older.

The United States reported Sunday 44,856 were hospitalized, which is 6.96% of capacity, from 44,740 a week ago, which is far below the record 160,113 (20.6%) on Jan. 20, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In its weekly update, the CDC said “Seasonal influenza activity remains high but continues to decline in most areas.”

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The CDC estimates so far this season, there have been at least 22 million illnesses, 230,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths from flu. The deaths include at least 74 children, including 13 in the past week.

The United States is dependent on China for medical supplies, including masks, latex gloves and surgical gowns, as well as key drugs and components in medical devices.

“We’re looking a lot for potential early warning signs in the medical supply chain for any kinds of disruptions,” an administration official told NBC News. “At this point, we haven’t detected any current or likely disruptions, at least to the flow of drugs or devices or supplies of PPE [personal protective equipment] to the United States given what’s going on in China.”

But China’s latest coronavirus wave could take months to affect the supply chain.

The Health Industry Distributors Association found up to10,000 medical containers were delayed an average of 25 days in October.

The U.S. imported $3.2 billion in drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients directly from China in 2020, according to a 2021 supply chain analysis by the White House.