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WHO and China work with China to address the risk of COVID outbreaks during the Spring Festival

Passengers line up at Suzhou Railway Station in Jiangsu Province, China, and China's annual Spring Festival begins. (7 January 2023)
Passengers line up at Suzhou Railway Station in Jiangsu Province, China, and China’s annual Spring Festival begins. (7 January 2023)

The World Health Organization said it was working with China to address the risks posed by the surge in COVID-19 cases during the Spring Festival, but China’s handling remains questioned by a lack of data.

After China eased its “zero” policy in December, COVID-19 spread widely across the country, and WHO said China still did not provide enough information to allow the organization to fully assess the threat of a surge in cases.

WHO says there is also a problem with China reducing travel risks ahead of the Lunar New Year’s traditional Spring Festival public holiday, which officially starts on 21 January. Before the pandemic, the Spring Festival was the largest annual migration in the world.

Abdi Rahman Mahamud, Director of WHO’s Alert and Response Coordination Unit, said: “We have been working with our colleagues in China. He said China has a series of strategies for moving people from high-risk areas to low-risk areas, as well as testing and diagnostics.

He added: “But to better understand the situation, we need data. ”

WHO says that although China now provides more information about the outbreak, it is still grossly underreported in terms of COVID-19 deaths.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical director of COVID response, said: “There are some very important information gaps that we are working with China to fill. ”

China says its COVID-19 data has been transparent.

China’s National Health Commission said that early on Wednesday (January 11), Chinese officials and WHO held technical exchanges on the epidemic situation, clinical treatment, virus variant surveillance, vaccination strategies and other aspects in a video conference.

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Mutation

WHO also said it will soon release a risk assessment for the Ormic Kronn subvariant XBB1.5, which is causing cases to climb in the United States.

Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, praised the United States for its “great transparency” in data on the spread of this subvariant.

This is one of the reasons WHO does not support measures to monitor incoming travellers from the United States, he said. But the WHO said it was “understandable” that some countries were taking similar measures for travellers from China — including COVID-19 testing and wastewater surveillance.

“I do think you can’t compare the two,” he said. ”

(This article is based on a Reuters report.)

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