‘Be prepared, don’t panic’, PH told as China bares COVID numbers
MANILA, Philippines—Over the weekend, China lifted the curtain on its COVID nightmare, reporting at least 60,000 COVID deaths since it dropped its zero-COVID policy last December.
The key disclosure raised one question for the Philippines—should we worry?
Following global criticism of China’s lack of transparency on COVID, Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration of China’s National Health Commission (NHC), said at a media briefing that the number of COVID deaths in Chinese hospitals totaled 59,938 between December 8, 2022 and January 12, 2023.
Of the total deaths recorded, Yahui said 5,503 were caused by respiratory failure due to COVID, and the remainder resulted from a combination of COVID and other diseases.
The figures were higher than the 5,000 deaths previously reported by China since the pandemic began—one of the lowest death rates in the world.
READ: China reports huge rise in COVID-related deaths after data criticism
Studies had predicted that at least one million people in China could die after the government lifted many of its strict zero-COVID measures—frequent tests, travel curbs and mass lockdowns—following widespread protests in late November.
READ: China reopens borders in final farewell to zero-COVID
China’s lack of transparency
The World Health Organization (WHO), which previously said that COVID deaths in China are “heavily underreported,” welcomed Beijing’s announcement.
The UN agency reported that Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus already spoke with Minister Ma Xiaowei, director of China’s NHC, about the COVID-19 situation in the country.
According to WHO, Tedros “reiterated the importance of China’s deeper cooperation and transparency on understanding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and in carrying out the recommendations detailed in the report of the Strategic Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens.”
In a separate statement, WHO noted that China might still be underreporting deaths from COVID-19, although it is now providing more information on the outbreak.
“There are some very important information gaps that we are working with China to fill,” said COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove.
READ: WHO working with China on Lunar New Year COVID-19 risks
For health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon, China’s lack of transparency is reminiscent of what happened during the COVID outbreak in Wuhan in January 2020.
What should PH do?
When asked whether the Philippines should worry about China’s recent disclosure, Leachon said the country should not panic. However, he stressed that the government and the public should be prepared.
“We are in a better position now than before, but the virus is still out there, which can cause problems,” Leachon told INQUIRER.net.
The Department of Health (DOH), which had previously noted that there was no need to close its borders for travelers from China, had already ordered intensified monitoring and implementation of border control measures for travelers from China entering the country.
Currently, the government requires only unvaccinated or foreign travelers, who are not fully vaccinated, to present negative pre-departure antigen or RT-PCR test results before travel or upon arrival.
At a press briefing last week, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, DOH OIC, assured the public that the department consistently collects information regarding travelers entering the country.
Still, Leachon recommended that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) meet and discuss the possibility of implementing pre-departure COVID tests for incoming travelers from China.
The DOH reported earlier this month that eight unvaccinated Filipinos traveling from China tested positive for COVID-19. It said the cases were discovered after the individuals were required to undergo testing for failing to present a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test result upon arrival at the airport.
READ: 8 unvaccinated Filipinos from China get infected with COVID-19
A report by the Philippine News Agency, citing a DOH provincial chief, said a foreigner traveling from China to Negros Oriental also tested positive for COVID-19.
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What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.
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