China targets elderly in Covid-19 vaccination campaign | China

Chinese health officials have announced they will speed up vaccination of the elderly against Covid-19, while police patrolled major cities to stamp out protests against the country’s strict zero-Covid policy.

The low vaccination rate among the elderly is one of the biggest hurdles to easing the zero-Covid policy that has eroded economic growth, disrupted the lives of millions and sparked three days of unprecedented protests.

At a regular news conference on Tuesday, officials said only 76.6% of people over 80 had received two doses of the vaccine, compared to more than 90% of the general population, and only 65.8% had received a booster shot.

The National Health Commission (NHC) said it will target more vaccinations at people over 80 and shorten the gap between the basic and booster shots to three months for older people.

As part of a new plan to “boost coronavirus immunization of older people,” the National Health Commission (NHC) said it will target more shots at people over 80 and shorten the gap between the basic and booster shots to three months for older people.

Local authorities were instructed to improve vaccine advertising and distribution to older age groups, who were far more averse to vaccination than younger generations. Some people who refused the vaccination would have to explain why, officials said.

China has yet to approve mRNA vaccines, which have been shown to be more effective, for public use. Health experts have expressed fears that lifting the zero-Covid policy while sections of the population are not fully immunized could overwhelm China’s healthcare system.

China recorded 38,421 domestic infections on Tuesday, down slightly from the weekend’s record highs and low compared to case numbers in western countries at the height of the pandemic.

Embarrassed silence: China official speechless after question on protests – video

One official acknowledged “the problems recently reported by the population,” which he attributed to the implementation of government policies at the local level, rather than to the policies themselves.

A heavy police presence and arrests appeared to have deterred protesters in many cities on Tuesday. Videos on social media, which could not be independently verified, showed hundreds of police officers occupying a large public square in the city of Hangzhou on Monday night, preventing people from gathering.

In Shanghai and Beijing as of Tuesday morning, police were still patrolling areas of the cities where some groups on the Telegram social media app had suggested people should gather again.

There were reports of police officers asking people for their phones to verify they had virtual private networks (VPNs) and the Telegram app used by weekend protesters. VPNs are illegal for most people in China, while the Telegram app is blocked from the Chinese internet.

People also shared instructions on Telegram on how to protect phone data from random police checks, including apps or settings to quickly erase data. “What to do if your phone is stolen or stolen by the police – this little guide can prevent awkward situations on the road,” reads a message.

In Shanghai, near where protests were taking place over the weekend, bar staff told AFP news agency they had been ordered to close at 10pm local time for “control of disease”. Small groups of officers stood in front of every subway exit.

Throughout the day, AFP journalists saw officers arrest four people and later release one. “The atmosphere tonight is nervous. There are so many cops around,” said a man in his early 30s as evening fell.

A deadly fire last week in Urumqi, capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang region, sparked a wave of outrage, with protesters blaming Covid restrictions for hampering rescue efforts – claims the government has denied.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report

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