Jan. 22 (UPI) — Mainland China rang in the Lunar New Year with large family gathering and big public celebrations with the strict “zero-Covid” policy no longer in effect despite a surge in cases and deaths, including 12,660 in past week, three years after the pandemic emerged in the nation.
No true idea of the extent of the outbreak exists because the nation of more than 1.4 billion people no longer is listing daily data for deaths, cases and hospitalizations with sparse data now infrequent. Worldometers.info last reported data 14 days ago: 5,272 deaths and 403,302 cases. The world toll is 6,745,967 fatalities and 673,282,002 infections so far Sunday with a 37% weekly decline in infections and 23% drop in fatalities.
On Saturday, China’s Center for Disease Control reported 1,809 daily COVID-19-related deaths between Jan. 13 and Thursday including 680 cases of respiratory failure caused by the virus and 11,980 fatalities from other ailments combined with COVID-19.
Last week there were 60,000 deaths reported since early December.
The deaths only occurred in hospitals with one at home not included.
Also only deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure are counted. This is not how the death are tallied elsewhere in the world.
For the first time since 2019, residents rang in the New Years in grand style.
It is the Year of the Rabbit this time.
“He has never experienced what a traditional new year is like because he was too young three years ago and he had no memory of that,” said Si Jia, who brought her 7-year-old son to the Qianmen area near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, told Politico.
Crowds at Beijing’s Lama Temple appeared to be smaller compared with pre-pandemic days. Nearly 53,000 offered prayers at the Tibetan Buddhist site that allows up to 60,000 visitors a day.
In Qianmen, residents and tourists appears on the pedestrian streets.
Despite the crowds, a large-scale surge may be unlikely because about 80% of the residents have been infected during the recent wave, said Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control on Saturday.
More than 2 billion passenger trips will take place during the 40-day Lunar New Year season as people across the country return to their hometowns for family reunions, China’s Ministry of Transport estimates in a CNN report.
More than 26 million passenger trips were taken on the eve of Lunar New Year, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported Sunday. It was 50.8% higher than 2022 but only half in 2019.
Around 33,900 people a day are dying, according to the British-based data firm Airfinity on Friday, compared with 14,700 one week earlier. Since Dec. 1 the cumulative fatalities: 708,000. The cases estimate is 112 million since Dec. 1.
“Our analytics indicators suggest that the virus has spread more quickly to rural areas, partly driven by people traveling for the Chinese New Year celebrations,” the report said. “This increased growth rate has changed our forecast from predicting two successive waves to one larger and more severe wave.
In the updated mode, cases could peak at 4.8 million a day with 62 million predicted across June 13 and 27 before beginning to fall.
Daily deaths are forecast to peak at 36,000 a day on Jab. 26, which is up from our previous estimate of 25,000 a day.
China also is releasing no vaccination data.
The change in China’s initial “zero-dose” policy for elderly people had left some unsure about seeking a vaccine now.
Dr. Kate O’Brien from the World Health Organization said in a United Nations report: “Clearly with the need for protection of older adults, it’s been difficult for older adults to sort of change their understanding of the recommendation and to move on from that first recommendation about adults being vulnerable. China’s making enormous progress and effort to get to every older adult with both primary doses and with booster doses.”
The vaccination coverage rate of the population in China has reached 92.9%, and over 90 percent of its people over the age of 60, according to the latest data issued by China’s State Council joint COVID-19 prevention and control mechanism.
Two doses of China-made inactivated vaccines showed 70% effectiveness in preventing severe illness among people aged over 60,. It was 95% after a booster shot.
“A large amount of clinical evidence shows that the COVID-19 vaccines can significantly reduce the rate of severe illness and death. Vaccination is a very important weapon for us to fight the epidemic,” said Li Lanjuan, an epidemiologist and an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
China is only allowing its domestic-produced vaccines, which are not as effective as other ones, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Mainland Chinese travelers are going to Hong Kong to receive mRNA COVID-19 vaccines after the nation reopened its borders without quarantine measures.
One week ago, high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and mainland China resumed for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Hong Kong, like China, has adopted a “zero tolerance” for coronavirus with strong restrictions eased, including hotel quarantine for arrivals from other nations.
Starting Jan. 30, Hong Kong no longer require people infected to be quarantined. A mask mandate remains but city leader John Lee said in an interview with Hong Kong Commercial Daily: “My hope in 2023 is to remove all Covid restrictions.”
Hong Kong downgraded the disease to endemic like the mainland.
“I have decided to scrap the quarantine order for COVID-infected patients. This is one of the important steps towards normalcy,” Lee told a legislative meeting on Thursday.
Hong Kong reported 37 deaths and 2,737 cases compared with 66 fatalities and 14,113 infections seven days ago with the record 79,876 on March 3.
On Sunday, Taiwan reported 27 fatalities and 19,187 infections.
The seven-day average of 1,668 deaths are among the lowest since 1,232 March 22, 2020, 11 days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It was 1,440 Nov. 20, 2022.
On Saturday, 796 deaths and 170,154 cases were reported with the latter the least since late June 2020.
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 3,851,995 cases on Jan. 21, during the height of the Omicron subvariant, and 16,878deaths 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 63.3% of the world’s confirmed cases, up from 30.9% five weeks ago, and it decreased 33% for a cumulative 211,798,750, according to Worldometers.info. The continent has 59% percent of the world’s population.
Africa was the only continent to increase: 50% for a cumulative 12,764,095.
Other decreases were North America 51% for 122,582,401, Oceania 49% for 13,842,392, Europe 38% for a world-high 243,994,958, South America 29% for 67,564,870.
Two continents reports a rise in deaths: Africa 86% for 258,440 and South America 46% for 1,345,868.
Decreasing were North America 45% for 1,587,713, Europe 30% for a world-high 2,000,781, Oceania 22% for 24,604, Asia 9% for 1,524,810.
No nations reported increases in both deaths and cases in the past week.
Japan again posted the most weekly cases, 672,526 in a 34% drop and was first again in deaths at 2,779, a 2% decline.
South Korea again was second in infections with 208,574, a 31% decrease with deaths 273, a 23% drop in 13th.
The U.S. was third again in infections with 161,094 but a 52% decrease and second again in deaths again at 1,702, a 49% drop.
Russia was the nation to report an increase in cases with at least 25,000: 31% in seventh at 27,969.
Decreased in descending order were Taiwan 31% in fourth with 135,567, Brazil 26% in fifth with 98,882, Germany 34% in sixth with 63,249, Italy 56% in eighth with 34,742, Hong Kong 57% in 10th with 29,861, Mexico 27% in 11th with 27,946.
Among nations reporting more than 100 deaths with increases in the past week: Brazil 102% in third with 947, Spain 10% in sixth with 379, Mexico 319 in 11th with 319, Colombia 12% in 15th with 126, Philippines 32% in 16th with 123.
Decreases were Germany 15% in fourth wit 928, Britain 31% in fifth with 765, France 31% in seventh with 378, Australia 15% in eighth with 336, Hong Kong 29% in ninth with 334, Italy 47% in 10th with 330, Russia 7% in 12th with 298, Taiwan 9% in 14th with 269, Peru 24% in 17th with 116, Chile 36% in 18th with 104.
The United States leads with 1,128,521 fatalities and 103,829,943 infections. The nation also holds the world record for daily cases at 906,988 on Jan. 7. Brazil is second in deaths at 696,316, including 71 Saturday, and fifth in cases at 36,733,016 including 5,441 most recently.
India is second in cases at 44,681,921, including 140 Sunday, and 79 Monday, the lowest since the start of the outbreak, and third in deaths at 530,733 including 3 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 394,694 including 41 Sunday, Mexico is fifth with 331,870 including 41 Saturday, Peru sixth with 218,625 including 19 Saturday, Britain seventh with 203,229, Italy eighth with 186,488, Germany ninth with 164,703, France 10th with 163,752.
In the top 10 for cases, France is third with 39,481,072 including 4,324 Saturday, Germany fourth with 37,668,384, Japan sixth with 32,045,328 including 64,450 Sunday, South Korea seventh with 29,999,529 including 16,624 Sunday, Italy eighth with 25,415,630, Britain ninth with 24,259,240, Russia 10th with 21,894,157 including 5,729 Sunday.
On Jan. 6, Japan reported 245,542 cases, the most since a record 255,810 Aug. 20, but the figure has dropped in the past week with the most 125,108 Wednesday.
Japan’s seven-day moving case average is 96,076 compared with 26,235 Oct. 12 and under 20,000 in early July with the daily record 255,316 Aug. 18.
And deaths Sunday were 326 with a record 503 Jan. 14. Before August, the mark was 257 on Feb. 24. The seven-day average is 397 among the most.
Japan plans to consider downgrading coronavirus to the same category as seasonal influenza this spring, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Friday.
“In order to further advance the efforts of ‘living with Corona’ and restore Japan to a state of normalcy, we will transition the various policies and measures to date in phases,” Kishida said.
COVID-19 is Class 2 disease, the same status as tuberculosis and avian influenza, according to Japan’s Health Ministry. It would be dropped to Class 5, the lowest rank.
Throughout the pandemic Japan has had a low deaths rate though it is rising significantly.
Japan has 521 deaths per million, which is 153rd in the nation, with the world at 865.4 and Peru No. 1 at 6,490. In cases, Japan’s rate is 255,169 per million in 79th place with the world 86,376 and Austria the highest among large countries at 634,808 with France 601,988, South Korea 584,446, Portugal 548,511 and Denmark 543,696. Japan’s population is 125 million.
South Korea’s seven-day cases average is 29,798 but it reached 404,666 on March 19, when the daily record was 621,328 on March 17. The nation reported 16,624 cases Saturday, third most in world behind Japan with 78,954.
South Korea’s fatalities Sunday were 24.
South Korea announced Friday it will lift its mask mandate on Jan. 30 for indoor areas except for public transport and health facilities.
In the United States through Jan. 20, the CDC has classified 6.1% of counties, districts and territories with a “high” category transmission level, compared with 31.4% “medium” and 62.5% “low.” In “high” locations, scattered mainly in the Northeast, Southeast and Texas, masks are urged indoors.
The CDC reported 332,212 cases in the past week, one week after 436,776 and four weeks after 496,373, the most since 526,228 Sept. 7. On Oct. 19, it was 260,452, the lowest since 229,296 April 13. The record was 5,629,914 Jan. 19. And the deaths average was 3,958, one week after 4,209, the most since 5,067 March 30 a year ago, with three weeks ago 2,504 and seven weeks ago 1,769, the lowest since July 7, 2021 of 1,690. The record was 23,387 Jan. 13, 2021.
The predominant Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 represented 49.1% of the total cases in the week ending Saturday, with BQ.1.1 at 26.9%, BQ.1 at 13.3%. BA.5, which had dominated since the early summer, dropped to 2%. Omicron overall totals 100%.
In its weekly report Thursday, the CDC said the U.S. adult one-shot vaccination rate was 91.9% with completed primary service at 78.9% and updated booster doses 18.5%. The full population rates are 81% for one shot, 69.1% for completed primary and 15.3% updated booster.
In its weekly update, the CDC said: “Seasonal influenza activity continues to decline across the country.
The CDC estimates so far this season, there have been at least 25 million illnesses, 270,000 hospitalizations and 17,000 deaths from flu. The deaths include at least 85 children, including 6 in the past week.
On Jan. 20, 2020, three years ago on Friday, the U.S. confirmed the first case, in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, Wash. The man in his 30s had recently returned from Wuhan, China, where the virus first appeared in 2019.
The first death was report Feb. 29 from the Seattle area.
Coronavirus was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021, behind heart disease and cancer. The 2022 data hasn’t been compiled yet.
More than 267,000 people died from coronavirus n 2022, according to preliminary data from Johns Hopkins University, compared with more than 350,000 in 2020 and more than 475,000 in 2021.