- COVID infections could peak next week, Chinese health official said
- China reports no new COVID deaths for third day
- Excessive cuts to the health system for more severe cases
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 23 (Reuters) – China is expecting a peak in COVID-19 infections within a week, a health official said, with authorities predicting additional strain on the country’s health system even as they downplay the severity of the disease and continue to report no new deaths.
Faced with a growing outbreak and widespread protests against its “zero-COVID” regime of lockdowns and testing, China began dismantling it this month, becoming the latest major country to move toward living with the virus.
Its containment measures had slowed the economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, blocking supply chains and global trade. As Chinese workers get sicker and sicker, more disruption is expected in the short term before the economy bounces back late next year.
China reported fewer than 4,000 new symptomatic COVID cases nationwide for Dec. 22 and no new COVID deaths for the third day in a row. Authorities have narrowed the criteria for deaths from COVID, prompting criticism by many disease experts.
Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, was quoted in Shanghai’s government-backed newspaper The Paper on Thursday as saying that China is “expected to peak infections within a week”.
“The peak of infection will also increase the rate of severe disease, which will have a certain impact on all our medical resources,” he said, adding that the wave will continue for another month or two after that.
“We have to be mentally prepared that infection is inevitable.”
However, Zhang said he had visited nursing homes around Shanghai, noting that the number of elderly people who had severe symptoms was low.
Infections in China are likely to be more than a million a day with deaths at more than 5,000 a day, a “stark contrast” from official data, Britain-based health data firm Airfinity said this week. .
A Shanghai hospital has assessed 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 sudden policy change caught a fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs and authorities racing to build clinics.
More than a dozen global health experts, epidemiologists, residents and policy analysts interviewed by Reuters identified the failure to vaccinate the elderly and communicate an exit strategy to the public, as well as an excessive focus on eliminating the virus, as causing strain on China’s medical infrastructure.
An effort to vaccinate the elderly that began three weeks ago has yet to bear fruit. China’s overall vaccination rate is over 90%, but the rate for adults who have had booster shots falls to 57.9% and to 42.3% for people aged 80 and over, according to government data.
China spent heavily on quarantine and testing facilities over the past three years instead of strengthening hospitals and clinics and training medical staff, these people said.
“There is a tremendous lack of preparation for the virus coming despite them having … ample warning,” 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 seen as less effective than Western-made vaccines that use the new mRNA technology.
The embassy hopes the first doses will be given “as soon as possible”, the spokesman said.
THERE IS NO DATA
The World Health Organization has received there is no data from China to new COVID hospitals since Beijing lifted its zero-COVID policy. The WHO has said gaps in data may be because Chinese authorities are simply trying to count cases.
Amid growing doubts about Beijing’s statistics, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that all countries, including China, should share information on their experiences with COVID.
As COVID spreads in China, residents who previously faced long periods of isolation are now learning to live with the virus.
Chinese teacher Yang Zengdong, whose entire family is isolated in their apartment in downtown Shanghai, mildly ill with COVID, welcome the change in politics. Just weeks ago, they would have all been sent to a quarantine facility and their building would have been locked down.
“When I think about this situation, my feeling is just, wow, we’re so lucky because now we can isolate ourselves at home,” Yang said.
“This wave is something we have to face because it is impossible to stay closed forever.
Reporting by Bernard Orr in Beijing, Casey Hall and David Stanway in Shanghai, Farah Master in Hong Kong and Chen Lin in Singapore; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.
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