Beijing Outbreak Widens After End Of Zero-COVID

Beijing’s COVID outbreak seems to have widened after the abandonment of China’s long-held zero-COVID policy. Daily reported new cases have dropped dramatically due to the end of mass testing but accounts and videos out of the capital indicate an uncontrolled surge threatening to overwhelm medical systems. The spike comes amid concerns over the level of official preparation for the consequences of looser controls. At The New York Times, Keith Bradsher reported on Beijing’s plan to triage patients, a nationalist’s anger over false case numbers, and an expert’s fear about the potential extent of the outbreak

Across the country, officials have been scrambling to protect hospitals from being overwhelmed as more people become infected. At many of Beijing’s hospitals, health workers screen people who show up with fevers to identify those who are seriously ill and send home those with milder symptoms.

[…] “This problem should be exposed, and the numbers should be returned to their true appearance, or they should not be reported at all,” said Hu Xijin, the former editor in chief of the Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper, on Weibo, a popular social media site. “This is not conducive to maintaining the seriousness of official information nor is it conducive to shaping everyone’s objective understanding of the spread of the epidemic.”

[…] Asked about the likelihood that 80 or 90 percent of China’s population might catch the virus, Professor Jin said: “That’s very probable, and the question is within how long they get it — and what’s scary is, they don’t seem to have a road map.” [Source]

On Friday, the State Council body tasked with leading China’s COVID response released guidelines for the “optimization” of medical resources that will aim to build up the country’s intensive care unit capacity by the end of December—hospitals are now required to ensure 4 percent of beds are ICU beds. China currently has 138,100 ICU beds, and 80,500 ICU doctors and 220,000 nurses staffing them. A health official in Guangzhou told The Financial Times: “One of our biggest challenges is how hospitals cope with a surge in infections among doctors and nurses.” Beijing residents have been instructed to quarantine at home if they are lightly symptomatic or asymptomatic. Medical experts have also encouraged the central government to reclassify COVID to a Class B infectious disease, which would provide a legal basis for the makeshift hospitals that have sprung up to quarantine COVID cases to be repurposed for normal medical treatment. At The South China Morning Post, Zhuang Pinghui reported on the experience of Beijing residents as they face an unrestricted outbreak for the first time since 2020:

Two employees from state-owned enterprises – who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media – said their companies scrapped requirements for PCR tests to enter their offices and increased the number of employees allowed in on Thursday.

Then people kept falling sick.

One employee said she came to work but had to return home because she developed a fever before noon on the second day back in the office.

[…] Hu Youhai, a migrant worker from Jiangsu province, waited at the fever clinic at Peking Union Medical College Hospital for two hours to get a doctor to see his nine-year-old son late on Thursday.

“I suspected it was Covid-19 because he had such a high fever … and he ached all over his body,” Hu said.Although people with a fever are advised to take a quick antigen test at home and rest, Hu said he had to take the son to see a doctor because the child had other worrying symptoms. [Source]

Vaccine uptake among the elderly remains low compared to the general population. Studies recently released by one of China’s top vaccine manufacturers show the vaccine is safe for the elderly. Foreigners living in China have faced problems getting vaccinations but German residents living in China can now take BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine, which is not available to the general public in China. At The Wall Street Journal, Selina Cheng reported on an uptick in online search queries for “COVID symptoms” and an accompanying surge in vaccination administrations

Inquiries on Chinese search engine for fever medication ibuprofen and the phrase “Covid symptoms” began to climb Monday, according to Baidu Inc.’s search index data, two days before the nation’s central health authority issued the order making clear the new rules were to be applied nationwide. Those searches  later surged further still, with queries for ibuprofen rising by more than four times in the past week from the prior seven day period.

The number of Covid jabs administered jumped fivefold from about 150,000 a day over the weekend to almost 750,000 on Thursday, national health data show. Officials have frequently cited low vaccination rates, especially of those aged 80 and over, as well as fears a large outbreak would overwhelm hospitals as reasons why China had to stick with zero-Covid. Epidemiologists have said vaccine uptake would naturally increase as the risk of infection grew. [Source]

Online, gallows humor seems to be the order of the day, but offline there have been runs on drugstores and hospitals in Beijing, as the Associated Press’ Joe McDonald reported: 

Drugstores were mobbed by customers who bought medications to treat sore throats and headaches after rules were dropped that required pharmacists to report those purchases, prompting fears a customer might be forced into a quarantine center.

Also Friday, the market regulator announced prices of some medicines including Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional flu treatment, rose as much as 500% over the past month. It said sellers might be punished for price gouging.

People waited four to five hours to get into the fever clinic of Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing, according to a woman who answered the phone there and would give only her surname, Sun. She said no virus test was required but patients had to show a smartphone “health code” app that tracks their vaccine status and whether they have been to areas deemed at high risk of infection. [Source]


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