BEIJING: The possibility of a big Covid-19 rebound in China over the next two or three months is remote as 80 per cent of people have been infected, a prominent government scientist said on Saturday.

The mass movement of people during the ongoing Lunar New Year holiday period may spread the pandemic, boosting infections in some areas, but a second Covid wave is unlikely in the near term, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said on the Weibo social media platform.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are travelling across the country for holiday reunions that had been suspended under recently eased Covid curbs, raising fears of fresh outbreaks in rural areas less equipped to manage large outbreaks.

China has passed the peak of Covid patients in fever clinics, emergency rooms and with critical conditions, a National Health Com­mission official said on Thursday.

Nearly 60,000 people with Covid had died in hospitals as of Jan 12, roughly a month after China abruptly dismantled its zero-Covid policy, according to government data.

But some experts said that figure probably vastly undercounts the full impact, as it excludes those who die at home, and because many doctors have said they are discouraged from citing Covid as a cause of death.

Bustling Wuhan

 People walk through a decorated food court that is part of a Spring Festival light installation ahead of Chinese Lunar New Year in Qinglonghu Park in Beijing, China on January 21. — Reuters
People walk through a decorated food court that is part of a Spring Festival light installation ahead of Chinese Lunar New Year in Qinglonghu Park in Beijing, China on January 21. — Reuters

Shoppers cradled huge bouquets at Wuhan’s bustling flower market on Lunar New Year’s Eve on Saturday, three years after a once-mysterious virus plunged the Chinese city into a terrifying lockdown.

But while many stock up on colourful flowers to celebrate the Spring Festival and the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit, others have a more sombre reason: to mourn loved ones lost to Covid-19 in the recent wave.

“I have friends and family who passed away during this time,” 54-year-old Mr Zhang said clutching a bunch of chrysanthemums, which symbolise grief in Chinese culture.

Zhang, who did not give his full name, explained that the New Year’s Eve custom in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, is to visit the homes of people who recently died to offer flowers and burn incense.

The Beijing government lifted its stringent zero-Covid policy in December but a surge in infections has since ripped through the country, killing thousands.

Wuhan, a metropolis on the banks of the Yangtze River now synonymous with Covid, reported the first cases in late 2019 of what was then a killer virus.

Authorities imposed a strict shutdown just two days before the Year of the Rat in late January 2020 to stop the spread of the virus.

Deprived of New Year’s Eve festivities, its 11 million inhabitants were cut off from the world for 76 days while Wuhan became the epicentre of an epidemic that inexorably became global.

On Saturday, a few hours before New Year’s Eve 2023, the city was seemingly back to normal and gearing up for the festival that is the most important family gathering of the year.

Multicoloured lanterns and pennants adorned the city’s Jianghan commercial district and a banner with a heart read “I love Wuhan”. An elderly man struggled to pedal his bicycle loaded with packages and food, while a couple with a toddler squeezed onto a scooter on their way back from the shops. “Of course, it’s way better after opening up,” Ms Zhu said as she bought decorative flowers.

“Now, since everyone has had Covid already, we can properly have a good Chinese New Year. So that makes us quite happy.” Business is finally back on track again for flower sellers after years of struggles.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2023

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