Coronavirus Update: China hits Western media over criticism of zero-COVID policy

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China has accused “some Western media” of bias and political manipulation in covering China’s abrupt dropping of COVID restrictions, which has led to a wave of new cases of the virus, the Associated Press reported. 

An editorial in the Communist Party publication the People’s Daily outlined what it called China’s “optimization and control measures” and blasted reports by media outlets they didn’t identify as “completely biased hype, smear and political manipulation with ulterior motives.”

The news comes as the country braces for the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts Jan. 21, and typically sees people traveling all over the country to visit family.

Experts are concerned that this year’s holiday will become a spreader event, although the editorial stressed that may localities have “passed the peak of the epidemic, and production and life are speeding up to return to normal.”

China has rejected all criticism, foreign and domestic, of its zero-COVID policy and pushed back against World Health Organization calls for more information about the state of its outbreak. Unconfirmed estimates now put the number of new cases at tens of thousands a day, with up to 85% of the population in some provinces having become infected.

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In the U.S., the seven-day average of new U.S. COVID cases stood at 54,015 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s down 14% from two weeks ago and well below the recent peak of 70,508 on Christmas Eve.

The daily average for hospitalizations was down 16% at 39,473. The average for deaths was 482, up 6% from two weeks ago. The death rate appears to be steadying after climbing as much as 73% as recently as Tuesday.

The Times trackers posited that the spike in deaths had more to do with data anomalies in recent reporting, which tends to become distorted around holiday periods when hospitals and healthcare centers are more thinly staffed.

See also: Americans are facing years of ‘tripledemic’ winters that may put patients with other ailments at risk, Jha says

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• A hoped-for boom in Chinese tourism in Asia over next week’s Lunar New Year holidays looks set to be more of a blip as most travelers are opting to stay inside China if they go anywhere, the AP reported. From the beaches of Bali to Hokkaido’s powdery ski slopes, the hordes of Chinese often seen in pre-COVID days will still be missing, tour operators say. It’s a bitter disappointment for many businesses that had been hoping lean pandemic times were over, although operators are expecting a return by late February, or early March.

Countries around the world are welcoming back Chinese tourists, once the largest source of tourism revenue globally. But even as China reopens its borders, the travel industry isn’t expecting things to bounce back to what they were just yet. Here’s why. Photo illustration: Adam Adada

• Hong Kong will no longer require people infected with COVID to quarantine from Jan. 30, removing one of the last major coronavirus restrictions in place in the Asian financial hub, Reuters reported. The scrapping of the isolation requirements is part of a decision to downgrade COVID-19’s status to an endemic disease from a severe respiratory disease and follows a similar move by China on Jan.8.

• Moderna MRNA, -2.31%  chief executive Stephane Bancel said his company was in active discussions to supply COVID vaccines to China, Reuters reported separately. Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, he said the talks with Beijing also covered the topic of factories and other products including cancer treatments. “What I really want to understand is how do we help the Chinese government as to what are the needs they have from a healthcare standpoint,” he said.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 668 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose above 6.73 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 101.9 million cases and 1,102,286 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 229.4 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.1% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 49.6 million Americans, equal to 15.9% of the overall population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and the omicron variants.

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