© Reuters. An elderly person stands from a chair after receiving a dose of coronavirus vaccine (COVID-19), during a government-organized visit to a vaccination center in the suburban town of Langxia Shanghai, China December 21, 2022. REUTERS/
By Zoey Zhang and Bernard Orr
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – A hospital in Shanghai has asked its staff to prepare for a “tragic battle” with COVID-19 as it predicts half of the city’s 25 million inhabitants will be infected later this year while the virus sweeps through China largely unchecked.
After widespread protests and an ever-increasing number of infections, China this month abruptly changed its policy and began to dismantle its “no COVID” regime, which has caused huge financial losses. and psychology for the 1.4 billion people of this country.
However, China’s official death toll since the pandemic began three years ago is 5,241 – a fraction of what most other countries have faced.
China reports no new COVID deaths for a second straight day on December 21, even as funeral home workers say demand has skyrocketed over the past week, pushing fees up than.
Authorities – who have narrowed the criteria for death from COVID, much to the criticism of many disease experts – have confirmed 389,306 symptomatic cases.
Some experts say the official figures have become an unreliable guide as fewer tests are being carried out across China following the easing of restrictions.
Shanghai Deji Hospital, posted on its official WeChat account late Wednesday, estimates that 5.43 million positive cases in the city and 12.5 million people in China’s main commercial hub will be affected. infected by the end of the year.
“This year’s Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Lunar New Year are forecast to be unsafe,” the hospital said.
“In this tragic battle, the whole of Greater Shanghai will fall, and we will infect all the hospital staff! We will infect the whole family! All of our patients will be infected! We have no other choice, and we can’t escape.”
People in Shanghai have been subject to a two-month blockade, which ended on June 1, leaving many people without income and difficult to access basic necessities. Hundreds of people died and hundreds of thousands were infected in those two months.
China could face more than a million deaths from COVID next year, experts say, due to relatively low rates of complete immunization among vulnerable elderly populations.
Government data shows China’s vaccination rate is above 90%, but the proportion of adults receiving booster shots falls to 57.9% and 42.3% for people 80 years of age and older.
At a hospital in Beijing, footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed rows of elderly patients in the intensive care unit breathing on oxygen masks. It is not clear how many people have COVID.
The hospital’s deputy director of emergency department, Han Xue, told CCTV that they receive 400 patients a day, four times the normal number.
“These patients are all elderly, have underlying diseases, fever, respiratory infections and are in very serious condition,” Han said.
The head of the World Health Organization said it was concerned about the spike in infections and was supporting the government to focus on vaccinating those most at risk.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters the agency needed more detailed information on the severity of the disease, number of hospitalizations and requirements for intensive care units in order to assess the entire population. face.
China’s policy reversal has left a fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies stocking up on drugs and authorities racing to build new rooms. special examination.
Smaller cities away from the affluent east and south coasts are particularly vulnerable. Tongchuan, a city of 700,000 in the northwest province of Shaanxi, on Wednesday called on all medical workers who have retired in the past five years to join the fight against COVID.
“Health organizations at all levels in the city are under tremendous pressure,” it said in a public announcement.
State media said local authorities were trying to tackle drug shortages, while pharmaceutical companies were working overtime to increase supply.
Cities across the country are distributing millions of ibuprofen pills to health facilities and retail pharmacies, according to a report in the state-run Global Times.
Germany says it has sent the first batch of BioNTech COVID vaccine to China to initially be used by Germans abroad. Berlin is pushing for other foreign nationals to be allowed to take them.
These will be the first mRNA vaccines, considered the most effective against the disease, available in China.
China has nine domestically developed COVID vaccines approved for use.
Some Chinese experts predict the COVID wave will peak in late January, and life could return to normal in late February or early March.