As authorities reversed more than two years of coronavirus controls, Chinese hospitals scrambled to contain new outbreaks across the nation on Monday.
Authorities last week announced a dramatic easing of the requirements for testing, digital health passes, tracking, and quarantines in response to widespread protests against the government’s strict “zero covid” policies. Hospitals have reported an increase in patients in the days since, while the virus has been contracted by hundreds of medical personnel.
At a briefing on Monday, Beijing municipal officials reported that 22,000 patients—or 16 times the daily average a week earlier—visited fever clinics the day before.
China’s healthcare system is likely to be overwhelmed by an increase in cases because it has spent the last three years concentrating on contact tracing and quarantines rather than preparing for coronavirus outbreaks. According to government statistics, China has 4.5 intensive care unit beds for every 100,000 residents, and its most recent goal to double its ICU capacity by the end of December is proving to be more challenging to accomplish than anticipated.
An initiative to make sure that important county-level hospitals are fully stocked with medical supplies and ICU equipment was launched by the National Health Commission on Sunday. By the end of December, hospitals are required to increase their staff by 20 to 30 percent and create an infectious-disease department.
According to the commission, 90 percent of rural hospitals will have fever clinics, and temporary quarantine facilities, or fangcang, will be turned into hospitals.
Residents in China claim that the 8,838 positive tests recorded on Sunday do not accurately represent the scope of infections because centralized testing, which was the only method for detecting new infections, has been discontinued. On Tuesday, a contact-tracking app that tracked residents’ movements will stop working, and all user data will be deleted.
According to local media reports, cities pleaded with residents not to call emergency services if their symptoms were not serious while community and rural clinics complained they were understaffed. Antigen tests and medications are being stocked up by terrified residents.
Despite having a fever for three days, Karen Bai, 36, of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, has not been able to obtain any at-home tests. She is immunocompromised, has a blood disease, and her doctor has told her not to go into hospitals.
The public in China has a low level of natural immunity as a result of the country’s pursuit of zero covid, making it vulnerable. The elderly, who have lower vaccination rates and are the focus of the current vaccination drive, are protected with particular attention by the authorities. Elderly residents were advised to refrain from group activities like playing mah-jongg or dancing in public squares for at least one month by infectious disease expert Zhong Wenhong of Shanghai.
China aims to vaccinate 90% of people aged 80 and over with at least a first shot, according to a report from the Caixin news site earlier this month. However, officials have not released a specific target due to elderly people’s reluctance to receive vaccinations. Despite months of promotion and gift-giving to encourage uptake, only 40% of Chinese adults over 80 have received a booster shot.
Feng Zijian, a government adviser and a former employee of the National Health Commission, predicted last week that the first wave of infections could infect 60% of the population. Around the Lunar New Year in late January, authorities anticipate an increase in cases.
Although it is “more complicated” to forecast when the outbreak will end, experts have said that China’s coronavirus cases may peak in a month.
Misinformation has spread amid the virus’s fear and after more than two years of official media warnings about its dangers. Residents have purchased canned peaches amid rumors that they will stop the spread of the virus, and experts have weighed in on whether people with better looks are less likely to contract the disease.
However, locals say they are happy about the opening. Yan, a physician in Beijing, declared that the risk was worthwhile. Even if they remained covid-free, more people would have perished from starvation and poverty if the lockdown had continued.