China’s stretched health system braces for peak in COVID infections

  • Chinese health official: COVID infections could peak next week
  • China reported no new COVID deaths for 3 days
  • Overstretched healthcare system supports for more serious cases

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 23 (Reuters) – China expects COVID-19 infections to peak within a week, while officials predict further pressure on the country’s healthcare system despite downplaying the severity of the disease and continuing to report, a health official said. no new deaths

In the face of a growing epidemic and widespread protests against the “zero COVID” lockdown and testing regime, China this month began dismantling the regime, becoming the last major country to move towards living with the virus.

Containment measures have squeezed global supply chains and trade, bringing the economy down to the slowest growth rate in nearly half a century. As Chinese workers become increasingly ill, further disruption is expected in the short term until the economy recovers next year.

China reported less than 4,000 new symptomatic local COVID cases nationwide on December 22, with no new COVID deaths for the third consecutive day. Authorities narrowed the criteria for COVID deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts.

Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, told Shanghai government-backed news outlet The Paper on Thursday that China “is expected to reach the peak of infections within a week.”

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“The peak of infection will also increase the rate of serious illness and this will have a certain impact on all of our medical resources,” he said, adding that the wave will continue for another month or two from now.

“We have to be mentally prepared that infection is inevitable.”

Still, Zhang said he had visited nursing homes around Shanghai and noticed that the number of seniors dealing with severe symptoms was low.

British-based health data firm Airfinity said this week that infections in China are “probably in stark contrast” with official data, with more than a million deaths per day and more than 5,000 deaths per day.

A Shanghai hospital estimates that half of the 25 million people in the trade center will be infected by the end of next week. Experts say China could face more than a million COVID deaths next year.

UNPREPARED

The sudden change in China’s policy caught a fragile health system off guard; Hospitals scramble for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs, and authorities race to build clinics.

More than a dozen global health experts, epidemiologists, residents and political analysts interviewed by Reuters identified an excessive focus on eradicating the virus, along with a failure to vaccinate the elderly and communicate an exit strategy to the public, as reasons for the pressure on China. medical infrastructure

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The campaign to vaccinate the elderly, which started three weeks ago, has yet to bear fruit. China’s overall vaccination rate is over 90%, but according to government data, the rate drops to 57.9% for adults who receive the booster vaccine and to 42.3% for those aged 80 and over.

They said China has spent big money on quarantine and testing facilities over the past three years, instead of supporting hospitals and clinics and training medical personnel.

“There is an incredible lack of preparedness for the incoming virus despite having adequate warning,” said Leong Hoe Nam, MD, an infectious diseases physician at the Rophi Clinic in Singapore.

China’s National Health Commission did not respond to requests for comment on the criticism.

There are nine locally-developed COVID vaccines approved for use in the country, all of which are seen as less effective than Western-made vaccines using the new mRNA technology.

Shipments of 11,500 BioNTech (22UAy.DE) mRNA vaccines for German citizens in China have reached the German embassy in Beijing, an embassy spokesperson told Reuters on Friday.

The spokesperson said the embassy hoped the first doses would be given “as soon as possible”.

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NO DATA

Since Beijing abolished its zero-COVID policy, the World Health Organization has received no data on new COVID hospitalizations from China. The WHO said the gaps in the data could be due to Chinese authorities struggling to count cases.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that amid growing doubts about Beijing’s statistics, all countries, including China, should share information about their experience with COVID.

As COVID ravages China, residents who previously faced prolonged isolation are now learning to live with the virus.

Chinese teacher Yang Zengdong, whose entire family is isolated in their apartment in downtown Shanghai and has mild COVID-19, welcomes the change in policy. Just weeks ago, they would all have been sent to a quarantine facility and their buildings closed.

Yang said, “When I think about this situation, wow, we’re so lucky because we can now be isolated at home.”

“This wave is something we have to face, because it’s impossible to stay shut forever.”

reporting by Bernard Orr from Beijing, Casey Hall and David Stanway from Shanghai, Farah Master from Hong Kong and Chen Lin from Singapore; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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