Coronavirus Update: China turns a corner on COVID as it lifts quarantines for foreigners


China has turned a corner in its zero-Covid policy, lifting quarantines for foreign travelers from early next year, but that has come with cost as cases are surging and hospitals are packed.

The National Health Commission said over the weekend that it will drop the COVID-19 quarantine requirement for passengers arriving in China from abroad, starting Jan. 8. That was a major step in China’s lifting of the zero-COVID policy that have kept foreigners locked out, and its citizens locked in, for more than 2 1/2 years.

“It feels like China has turned the corner,” said Colm Rafferty, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, in a statement, as the Associated Press reported.

While many welcome the lifting of the zero-COVID policy, it has also triggered a surge in cases and has led to hospitals in many smaller cities and towns being overwhelmed. The jump in severe cases comes as China’s health authorities struggle to vaccinate the elderly, amid fears of potential side effects.

In other China COVID news, China Meheco Group Co., which distributes Pfizer Inc.’s

Paxlovid COVID-19 vaccine in China, said over the weekend that Paxlovid can only be purchased at hospitals. That limits broader sales of the drug, including through e-commerce channels.

Back in the U.S., the latest data showed that the daily average of new cases and deaths have slipped during the Christmas holiday weekend, while hospitalizations have leveled off.

The seven-day average of new cases was 66,014 on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s down from 70,508 on Dec. 24, and down 1% from two weeks ago.

However, case counts could be artificially low during as officials who track the numbers take vacation for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Also, rising test positivity rates suggest many new COVID cases are not reported, as many who test at home don’t report results to health officials.

The daily-average test positivity rate climbed to a four-month high of 14% on Monday, up 14% from two weeks ago.

COVID-related hospitalizations dipped to 40,156 on Monday from 40,969 on Saturday, but had ticked up 3% from two weeks ago. Meanwhile, COVID patients in intensive care units (ICUs) increased to a 4 1/2-month high of 4,931 on Monday, up 11% from two weeks ago.

The daily average of deaths eased to 426 on Monday from 428 on Christmas Eve, and has declined 9% in two weeks.

The number of Americans who have been fully vaccinated was 229.99 million, or 69% of the total population, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while only 14.6% of Americans have received the updated (bivalent) booster dose.

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