China’s zero Covid: Country prepares for impact as virus ‘spreads rapidly’

China's zero Covid: Country prepares for impact as virus 'spreads rapidly'
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Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in an update in CNN’s three-weekly China bulletin, which examines what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it’s affecting the world. Register here.


China is preparing for an unprecedented wave of Covid-19 cases undoing large parts of his repressive zero-Covid policyOmicron variants were “spreading rapidly” with leading experts warning and signs of an epidemic rocking the nation’s capital.

The changes continued as officials announced on Monday deactivation of the “mobile route card”. scheduled health tracking feature for the next day.

The system, which is separate from the health code scanning system still required in a smaller number of places in China, used people’s cellphone data to track their travel history over the past 14 days. city ​​with a zone designated as “high risk” by the authorities.

It was a point of contention for many Chinese, including over concerns about data collection and its use by local governments to deny entry to those visiting a “high-risk zone” even if they did not leave. to areas within that city.

But as parts of the zero-Covid infrastructure are being dismantled apace, there are questions about how the country’s health system will cope with a massive outbreak.

Over the weekend, some businesses in Beijing were closed and city streets were largely empty as residents either fell ill or feared contracting the virus. The largest public crowds seen were outside pharmacies and Covid-19 testing booths.

Media outlet China Youth Daily documented hours-long queues at a clinic in central Beijing on Friday, citing unnamed experts who urged residents not to go to hospitals unless necessary.

Health workers in the capital also struggled with a spike in emergency calls, including from many Covid-positive residents with mild or no symptoms, with a hospital official on Saturday urging residents not to call the city’s 911-like emergency services in such cases. sort and combine resources needed by critically ill patients.

Chen Zhi, chief physician of the Beijing Emergency Center, said the daily volume of emergency calls has increased to more than 30,000 from the usual 5,000 in recent days, according to official media.

A top Covid-19 expert, Zhong Nanshan, said in an interview published on state media on Saturday that Covid was “spreading rapidly” in China, driven by high-throughput Omicron variants.

“No matter how strong prevention and control is, it will be difficult to completely cut the chain of transmission,” Zhong, who has been a key public voice since the early days of the pandemic in 2020, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The rapid rollback of nationwide testing and the shift of many people to using antigen tests at home has also made it difficult to gauge the extent of the spread, with official data now seemingly meaningless.

Authorities recorded 8,626 Covid-19 cases in China on Sunday, down from 10,597 the previous day and more than 40,000 daily cases late last month. CNN reports from Beijing that the number of cases in the Chinese capital may be higher than reported.

A note on an apartment building in Beijing hints at the larger situation: “Due to the severe epidemic situation in recent days, the number of workers who can come to work is seriously insufficient, and the normal operation of the apartment has been greatly affected and challenged.”

Posters used for health code scanning and barriers used for health screening were removed at Nanjing South Railway Station in Nanjing, China, on Friday.

The country is just days away from a major relaxation of its long-standing zero-Covid measures, which comes as a dizzying change for many Chinese, who live under strict government surveillance and have been fed a long-standing narrative of Covid-19’s lethality.

Last Wednesday, top health officials broadly rolled back the mass testing, centralized quarantine and health code tracking he relied on to control the spread of the virus. Some aspects of these measures remain, such as the use of health codes in designated areas and central quarantine in severe cases, as well as home isolation of cases.

Foreign experts have warned that China could be is not ready to handle the expected growth After the events, the measures were taken after the surprise move nationwide protests against policy, increasing and increasing the number of cases economic costs.

Although Omicron can cause relatively mild disease compared to previous options, even a small number of serious cases can have a significant impact on the health care system of a country of 1.4 billion.

In an interview with state media, Zhong said the government’s top priority should be booster shots, especially for the elderly and other people most at risk, especially with China’s Lunar New Year next month – the peak travel time for city dwellers visiting elderly relatives. he said. and they return to the villages.

Health authorities on Sunday ordered the improvement of medical facilities in rural areas by the end of the month.

Measures to be taken include increasing ICU wards and beds, increasing medical staff for intensive care and establishing more fever clinics, China’s National Health Commission said in a statement.

Meanwhile, experts have warned of a lack of experience with the virus — and years of state media coverage that recently focused on the virus’ dangers and impact abroad. final change in tone – may prompt those not in critical need to seek medical care, larger systems.

Bob Li, a graduate student in Beijing who tested positive for the virus on Friday, said he was not afraid of the virus, but his mother, who lives in the village, worried about him all night. “He finds the virus very, very scary,” Lee said.

“I think many people in rural China may have some misunderstandings about the virus, which may have been caused by the government’s over-spreading of the virus in the past two years. That’s one of the reasons why people are so scared,” he said, adding that he still supports the government’s cautious handling of Covid-19 during the pandemic.

There are clear efforts to address public anxiety about Covid-19 – and the potential side effects of drugs, such as panic buying.

China’s market watchdog said on Friday there was a “temporary shortage” of some “hot-selling” drugs and vowed to crack down on price hikes, while major online retailer said last week that takes measures to ensure Over-the-counter supplies for some drugs rose 18-fold that week compared to the same period in October.

A hashtag trending on China’s hard-line social media platform Weibo over the weekend featured an interview with state media in which a Beijing doctor said people who test positive for Covid-19 but have no or mild symptoms do not need to take medication to recover.

“People with asymptomatic infections generally do not need medication. It’s enough to rest at home, maintain a good mood and physical condition,” Li Tongzeng, chief infectious disease doctor at Beijing You An Hospital, said in an interview linked to the hashtag, which has been viewed more than 370 million times since Friday.

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