China’s flu outbreak continues to spread despite warmer weather

A woman receives a flu vaccine at a health centre in Lianyungang, in China's eastern Jiangsu province, on March 10, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING – China continues to report an increase in influenza cases countrywide even as the warmer weather returns, with one in two people examined at hospitals with cold symptoms testing positive for the pathogen.

Influenza positivity rates at hospitals monitored by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the week ended March 12 climbed to 53.2 per cent, about 13 times higher than a month earlier, latest data shows.

In contrast, positivity rates for Covid-19 stay suppressed at 2.7 per cent and the country has not reported any coronavirus-related deaths for three weeks as at Thursday.

Despite the low rate of Covid-19 infections, genetic sequencing in recent weeks shows more sub-variants, including BQ.1 and XBB, are emerging in China.

The explosive outbreak that spread after Beijing’s December pivot from its zero-Covid policy and which infected some 80 per cent of the country’s 1.4 billion people was driven mainly by earlier Omicron sub-lineages BA.5 and BF.7.

The ongoing flu outbreak has spurred a scramble for the antiviral drug oseltamivir.

Average daily sales of the treatment ballooned more than 100 times in March from a year earlier on China’s popular online marketplaces.

The sudden surge in demand has led to temporary shortages in hospitals and pharmacies in parts of the country. BLOOMBERG

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