China declares ‘decisive victory’ over COVID-19

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top leaders declared a “decisive victory” over COVID-19, saying its efforts led to more than 200 million people getting medical treatment and the country having the world’s lowest fatality rate.

“With continuous efforts to optimise COVID-19 prevention and control measures since November 2022, China’s COVID-19 response has made a smooth transition in a relatively short time,” China’s Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) remarked in a meeting on Thursday.

“A major decisive victory in epidemic prevention and control has been achieved.”

Nearly 800,000 severe cases received proper treatment, but leaders cautioned that while the epidemic situation continues to improve in China, the virus is still spreading globally and continues to mutate, according to state media.

The meeting stressed that China will increase the vaccination rate for the elderly, and strengthen the supply and production of medical goods.

The PSC, China’s most powerful leadership body, urged all localities and departments to strengthen the medical service system, according to the report from Xinhua.

In December, China dismantled its almost three-year strict policies following historic protests against the government’s tough anti-virus curbs. The U-turn unleashed COVID on a population of 1.4 billion that had been largely shielded from the disease since it emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Scant data from the country on deaths and hospitalisations as the surge swept across the country led many countries to implement curbs against Chinese travellers entering their countries, drawing the ire of the Chinese government.

Many countries and the World Health Organization have speculated China was underreporting deaths for months.

Fears swelled that the massive migration of travellers during the Lunar New Year would lead to an explosion of cases, but the government recently said the COVID situation was at a “low level” after the holidays.

Still, the cost to keep the virus in check was staggering.

Chinese provinces spent at least 352 billion yuan ($51.6 billion) on COVID containment in 2022, according to annual budget reports from local governments, adding strains to provincial finances in a year when economic growth slowed.

(Reporting by Ella Cao and Liz Lee; Writing by Bernard Orr; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jamie Freed)