Coronavirus COVID-19 in China - statistics & facts
A SARS-like virus, coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (formally known as 2019-nCoV) spread around the globe since its outbreak in Wuhan city in China. For the best part of three years, China has been implementing its "Zero-COVID" policy, with stringent measures such as border closures and lockdowns aiming to stop the spread of the virus.
How did the outbreak start?
In early December 2019, the first cases were identified from patients with severe pneumonia in the hospitals in Wuhan - the capital city of Huber province. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan has been widely considered the starting point of the outbreak. According to the early analysis of The Lancet, around half of 99 surveyed patients had a history of exposure to the market.
Like other coronaviruses (CoV), such as SARS and MERS which can mutate and spread from animals to humans, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can cause fever, respiratory infections, pneumonia, multi-organ failure, and even death in severe cases. The elderly and those with pre-existing chronic health conditions, such as lung or heart disease and diabetes, are the vulnerable and high-risk groups.
The rise and fall of the “Zero-COVID” approach
While citizens in other countries tried to live with the virus from the start of the pandemic, China initially maintained a "Zero-COVID" strategy, using mass testing and strict lockdowns to shut down any transmission routes. The policy proved to be highly effective until the emergence of the Omicron variant, with people's lives in the country largely unaffected throughout 2021. China was also one of the first countries to roll out a nationwide immunization program. Despite using conventional technology, and being less effective than their western counterparts, Chinese vaccines were widely administered domestically and exported worldwide.
However, the success of the “Zero-COVID” policy began to wane after the more contagious Omicron variant became the dominant strain in China. In February 2022, outbreaks occurred in several Chinese cities, with Shanghai, the country's economic capital, placed under a city-wide lockdown for more than two months. Similar situations continued to occur across China, causing serious disruptions to its economy and social order. Protests emerged in multiple cities, after several incidents related to COVID control measures, most notably a fire in an apartment block in Urumqi in late November, which killed ten residents in lockdown.
The “Zero-COVID” policy was swiftly terminated in early December. With little natural immunity and an inadequate vaccination rate among senior citizens, COVID-19 spread rapidly in China. The pandemic peaked on Dec 22, 2022, with 6.94 million people testing positive within 24 hours. The official death numbers remained surprisingly low, yet the actual toll remains unclear, as the official statistics exclude all patients with chronic illnesses and those who died outside hospitals.
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