When China suddenly scrapped onerous zero-COVID measures in December, the country wasn’t ready for a massive onslaught of cases. Hospitals turned away ambulances, crematoriums burned bodies around the clock, and relatives hauled dead loved ones to warehouses for lack of storage space.
Chinese state media claimed the decision to open up was based on “scientific analysis and shrewd calculation,” and “by no means impulsive.” But in reality, China’s ruling Communist Party ignored repeated efforts by top medical experts to kickstart exit plans until it was too late, The Associated Press found.
Instead, the reopening came suddenly at the onset of winter, when the virus spreads most easily. Many older people weren’t vaccinated, pharmacies lacked antivirals, and hospitals didn’t have adequate supplies or staff — leading to as many as hundreds of thousands of deaths that could have been avoided, according to academic modeling, more than 20 interviews with current and former China Center for Disease Control and Prevention employees, experts and government advisors, and internal reports and directives obtained by the AP.
“If they had a real plan to exit earlier, so many things could have been avoided,” said Zhang Zuo-Feng, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Many deaths could have been prevented.”