SHANGHAI – China has started taking steps to ease its zero-Covid-19 policy, fuelling a mix of relief and worry as the public waits to see the health consequences, and impact on the medical system, of a full-blown exit.

Researchers have analysed how many deaths the country could see if it pivots to a full reopening, with most pointing to the countrys relatively low vaccination rates and lack of herd immunity as some of its most vulnerable spots.

As of Friday, China reported 5,233 Covid-19-related deaths and 331,952 cases with symptoms.

Here are some of the estimates: More than 2 million

Zhou Jiatong, head of the Center for Disease Control in southwestern Guangxi region, said last month in a paper published by the Shanghai Journal of Preventive Medicine that mainland China faces more than 2 million deaths if it loosened its Covid-19 curbs in the same way Hong Kong did this year.

Infections could rise to more than 233 million, his forecast showed. 1.55 million

In May, scientists in China and the United States estimated that China risked just over 1.5 million Covid-19 deaths if it drops its tough zero-Covid-19 policy without any safeguards such as ramping up vaccination and access to treatments, according to research published in Nature Medicine.

They forecasted that peak demand on intensive care would be more than 15 times capacity, causing roughly 1.5 million deaths, based on worldwide data gathered about the variants severity.

However, the researchers, the lead authors among whom were from Fudan University in China, said the death toll could be reduced sharply if there was a focus on vaccination. Up to 2.1 million

China could see 1.3 million to 2.1 million people die if it lifts its zero-Covid-19 policy due to low vaccination and booster rates as well as a lack of hybrid immunity, British scientific information and analytics company Airfinity said on Monday.

The company said it modelled its data on Hong Kongs BA.1 wave in February, which occurred after the city eased restrictions after two years. REUTERS More On This Topic Beijing, Shenzhen loosen more Covid-19 curbs as easing gathers pace China official behind strict Covid-19 lockdowns softens her stance Related Stories What you need to know about S'pore's new Covid-19 vaccination strategy Asia stepping up fight against more infectious Covid-19 variants Hong Kong cements Covid-19 tests with centres just a 15-minute walk Covid-19 wave looms in Europe amid vaccine fatigue and false sense of security Long Covid remains a mystery, though theories are emerging askST: What is excess death and what is Covid-19's true toll on the world? Biden says pandemic is over; survivors and doctors disagree No plans to include Covid-19 vaccinations in childhood immunisation schedule: Ong Ye Kung Human development set back 5 years by Covid-19, other crises: UN report Covid-19's harmful effects on the brain reverberate years later: Study

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