China says Xi Jinping, other leaders got local Covid-19 shots in rare disclosure

The Chinese leadership is "highly confident" in its domestic vaccines. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China said all its leaders received locally-made Covid-19 shots, the first time a confirmation was made in the absence of a vaccine mandate for the country with the world's strictest controls against the virus.

The Chinese leadership is "highly confident" in domestic vaccines, National Health Commission official Zeng Yixin said at a briefing on Saturday (July 23).

The department also addressed concerns surrounding the shots, saying the vaccines won't trigger illnesses such as leukemia and diabetes.

The Foreign Ministry had previously refused to comment on President Xi Jinping's vaccination status, in contrast with leaders such as US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who both got vaccinated on camera in 2020.

Mr Xi's statements on vaccines have focused on demands to make them a "global public good," and advances in science, rather calls for the broader population at home to take them.

While close to 90 per cent of China's total population are fully vaccinated, the group above 80 years old has lagged. Only about 61 per cent of those in that category have received two shots, compared with about 89 per cent for people between the ages of 60 and 69, and 87 per cent for those between 70 and 79.

The recalcitrance among the country's 267 million people over the age of 60 has become a factor in keeping China stuck in its strict zero -Covid strategy.

It has make it difficult to fully relax the rules around mass testing, lockdowns and travel curbs, and has left the economy at a constant risk of disruption.

While officials are actively encouraging the elderly to take vaccines, concerns on the potential side effects including worsening some existing diseases, have kept many senior residents away.

Still, the latest data have shown capitulation, with rates among those 80 and above climbing from 51 per cent in March.

China's first attempt at a vaccine mandate was abruptly scrapped earlier this month within days of being announced by municipal officials in Beijing.

The plan to stop people entering public venues without proof of vaccination sparked an outcry online, with Chinese social media users calling it an illegal cap on their freedoms and questioning how effective the vaccines were against immune-evasive variants.

The number of local infections nationwide totalled 722 for Friday, including 594 asymptomatic cases, according to the National Health Commission. That's lower than the 880 local Covid cases reported on Thursday, though infections have been hovering near a two-month high.

About half of the cases on Friday came from the inland Gansu province, where capital Lanzhou went into lockdown days ago. New infections in Gansu fell by almost 200 from the day before.

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