© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Beds are seen in a fever clinic set up in a sports complex as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Beijing, December 20, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
By Bernard Orr and Casey Hall
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China is expected to peak in the number of COVID-19 infections within a week, a health official said, with authorities anticipating the health system The country will add tension even as they downplay the severity of the disease and continue to report no new deaths.
In the face of a growing outbreak and widespread protests against the “no COVID” lockdown and testing regime, China began lifting it this month, becoming the last major country to move towards coexistence. with viruses.
Its containment measures have slowed the economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, clogging supply chains and global trade. As Chinese workers fall more and more sick, more disruptions are expected in the short term before the economy rebounds late next year.
China reported fewer than 4,000 new symptomatic local COVID-19 cases nationwide on December 22, and no new COVID deaths for the third day in a row. Authorities have narrowed their criteria for COVID deaths, drawing criticism from many disease experts.
Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, was quoted in the Shanghai government-backed newspaper The Paper on Thursday as saying China “is expected to reach a peak of infections in within a week.”
“The peak of infection will also increase the rate of severe disease, which will have a definite impact on our entire health resource,” he said, adding that the wave would last for another month or two. afterward.
“We have to be prepared that infection is inevitable.”
However, Zhang said he had visited nursing homes around Shanghai and found the number of elderly people facing severe symptoms was very low.
UK-based health data company Airfinity says the number of infections in China could reach more than a million a day with more than 5,000 deaths a day, a “stark contrast” with data. official data.
A hospital in Shanghai estimates that half of the mall’s 25 million people will be infected by the end of next week. Experts say China could face more than a million deaths from COVID next year.
China’s abrupt policy shift has left a fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies supplying drugs and authorities racing to build clinics.
More than a dozen global health experts, epidemiologists, residents and political analysts interviewed by Reuters identified the failure to vaccinate the elderly and communicated the exit strategy to the public, as well as excessive focus on eliminating the virus, which is a source of tension for China. medical infrastructure.
Efforts to vaccinate the elderly, which began three weeks ago, have yet to bear fruit. According to government data, China’s overall vaccination rate is above 90%, but the proportion of adults who have received booster shots falls to 57.9% and 42.3% for people 80 years of age and older.
These people said China has spent heavily on quarantine and testing facilities over the past three years instead of consolidating hospitals, clinics and training medical staff.
“There was an amazing lack of preparation for the virus to come despite… a lot of warnings,” said Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease doctor at the Rophi Clinic in Singapore.
China’s National Health Commission did not respond to requests for comment on the criticism.
The country has nine domestically-developed COVID vaccines approved for use, all of which are considered less effective than Western-made vaccines using new mRNA technology.
A shipment of 11,500 BioNTech mRNA vaccines for German citizens in China has arrived at the German embassy in Beijing, an embassy spokesman told Reuters on Friday.
The embassy hopes the first doses will be made available “as soon as possible”, the spokesman said.
The World Health Organization has received no data from China on new COVID-19 hospitalizations since Beijing lifted its COVID-free policy. The WHO said the gaps in the data could be attributed to the Chinese authorities simply having difficulty tallying cases.
Amid growing doubts about Beijing’s statistics, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said all countries, including China, need to share information about their experiences with COVID.
As COVID rages across China, residents who previously faced long periods of isolation are now learning to live with the virus.
Chinese teacher Yang Zengdong, whose whole family is quarantined in an apartment in downtown Shanghai, is mildly ill with COVID-19, welcoming the change in policy. Just a few weeks ago, they would all be sent to an isolation facility and their building would be locked down.
“When I think about this situation, my feeling is just, oh, we’re so lucky that we can now quarantine at home,” Yang said.
“This wave is what we have to deal with, because it cannot be closed forever.”