China covid cases increase, hospitals struggle after restrictions loosened

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Chinese hospitals rushed to contain emerging outbreaks across the country on Monday as authorities rolled back more than two years of Covid controls.

Following widespread protests against the government’s strict “zero covid” policy, authorities last week announced a dramatic relaxation of requirements for testing, digital health passes, tracking and quarantines. In the days since, hospitals have reported an increase in patients, while hundreds of medical staffers have contracted the virus.

Beijing municipal officials said at a briefing on Monday that 22,000 patients visited fever clinics the day before, 16 times the daily average a week ago.

China prepares for an exit wave of infections as it eases covid policies

“Hospitals have been hit hard by zero covid and are now overwhelmed by an unprecedented outbreak,” said Yan, an eye surgeon in Beijing who only gave her last name because she was not authorized to speak to the media. More than half of the staff at her hospital had tested positive in the past week.

“The number of patients visiting the fever clinic has increased many times over last week, and it will probably be weeks or even months,” she said.

A surge in cases is likely to overwhelm China’s health care system, which for the past three years has focused on contact tracing and quarantines rather than building capacity for coronavirus outbreaks. China has 4.5 intensive care beds per 100,000 people, according to government data, and its latest ambition to double ICU capacity by the end of December is proving harder than expected.

The National Health Commission launched an initiative on Sunday to ensure major hospitals stock medical supplies and ICU equipment at the county level. Hospitals have been instructed to increase their staff by 20 to 30 percent and to set up an infectious diseases department by the end of December.

The commission said on Friday it would ensure that 90 percent of hospitals nationwide have fever clinics, while temporary quarantine centers known as fangcang will be converted into hospitals.

China recorded 8,838 positive tests on Sunday, a figure residents say does not reflect the true extent of infections since centralized testing, the only way new infections were identified, has been removed. A contact tracing app that tracks residents’ movements will stop working as of Tuesday, and all user data must be deleted.

Cities begged residents not to call emergency services if their symptoms weren’t severe, while local and rural clinics complained they were understaffed, according to local media reports. Panicked residents stock up on antigen tests and medications.

Karen Bai, 36, who lives in Shijiazhuang in Hebei province, has had a fever for three days but has not been able to take tests at home. She suffers from a bleeding disorder, is immunocompromised and her doctor has advised her to stay away from hospitals.

“So many patients have covid, but they don’t know it,” she said. “Everyone has said life will go back to normal, but for me things have gone from bad to worse.”

China’s drive for zero covid has resulted in low levels of natural immunity among the public, leaving the population vulnerable. Authorities are particularly focused on protecting the elderly, who have lower vaccination rates and are the target of a current vaccination campaign. Zhong Wenhong, a Shanghai-based infectious disease expert, advised elderly residents to refrain from group activities such as dancing in public squares or playing mahjong for at least a month.

Caixin reported earlier this month that China plans to vaccinate 90 percent of people over 80 with at least the first shot, but officials refrained from announcing a specific target given the hesitation among the elderly to get immunized. Only 40 percent of Chinese over the age of 80 have received a booster shot, despite months of campaigning and gift giving to encourage acceptance.

Last week, government adviser Feng Zijian, a former official at the National Health Commission, predicted that 60 percent of the population could become infected in the first wave of infections. Authorities expect an increase in cases around the end of January around the Lunar New Year.

China’s coronavirus case count could peak in a month, but it’s “more complicated” to predict when the outbreak will end, experts say.

“In the short term, there will be a huge demand for ICU resources as the number of serious cases increases,” Zhang Ming, the deputy chief of intensive care unit at Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai, told Yicai financial news outlet. adding that bigger hospitals in bigger cities are generally better prepared, but he ‘can’t speak for the situation in general’.

Amid fears over the virus and more than two years of official media warnings of its dangers, disinformation has spread, with residents buying up canned peaches amid rumors they prevent contagion and experts questioning whether more handsome people are less prone to becoming infected. contract it.

Still, local residents say they are happy with the opening. “It’s a risk worth taking,” said Yan, the doctor in Beijing. “Had the lockdown continued, more people would have died from poverty and hunger, even if they had remained covid-free.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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