China’s stretched health system braces for peak in COVID infections

  • Covid infection may peak next week – Chinese health official
  • China reports no new COVID deaths for 3rd day
  • China not yet ready for big bang – experts

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 23 (Reuters) – China expects a peak in Covid-19 infections within a week, a health official said, as officials predicted additional pressure on the country’s health system even as the severity of the disease continues to be underreported. No new deaths.

Amid widespread protests against the growing outbreak and its “zero-Covid” regime, as well as lockdowns and tests, China began to phase it out this month, becoming the last major country to live with the virus.

Its restrictive measures have slowed the economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century and crippled global supply chains and trade. As Chinese workers increasingly fall ill, more disruption is expected in the short term before the economy rebounds later next year.

China reported fewer than 4,000 new symptomatic local COVID cases nationwide on December 22, and no new COVID deaths for the third day in a row. Officials have lowered the criteria for Covid deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts.

Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, was quoted by the Shanghai government-backed news agency The Paper on Thursday as saying that China is “expected to reach the peak of the epidemic within a week”.

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“The peak infection will also increase the rate of severe disease, which will have a certain impact on our entire medical resources,” he said, adding that the wave would last for another month or two.

“We must be mentally prepared that contagion is inevitable.”

Still, Zhang said he visited nursing homes around Shanghai and noticed that the number of elderly people dealing with severe symptoms was low.

Worries about the near-term impact of China’s Covid wave pushed China ( .SSEC ), Hong Kong ( .HSI ) and other Asian stock markets lower. The yuan also weakened.

Infections in China may exceed one million a day, with more than 5,000 deaths a day, a “stark contrast” from official data, British-based health data firm Airfinity said this week.

Shanghai Hospital estimates that half of the commercial hub’s 25 million people will be affected by the end of next week. Experts say China could face more than a million COVID deaths next year.

Not ready

China’s sudden shift in policy has left hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, with officials racing to build pharmacies and clinics for drugs that have left a fragile health system unprepared.

More than a dozen global health experts, epidemiologists, residents and political analysts interviewed by Reuters identified a failure to vaccinate the elderly and a greater focus on eradicating the virus. Medical infrastructure.

Efforts to vaccinate the elderly, which began three weeks ago, have yet to bear fruit. China’s overall vaccination rate is more than 90%, but the proportion of adults who have received booster shots falls to 57.9%, and to 42.3% for those aged 80 and over.

China has spent more over the past three years on quarantine and testing facilities than on upgrading hospitals and clinics and training medical staff, these people said.

“There is an incredible lack of preparation for the virus, even though they have enough warning,” said Leong Ho Nam, an infectious disease doctor at the Roffie Clinic in Singapore.

China’s National Health Commission did not respond to requests for comment on the criticism.

Nine indigenously developed Covid shots have been approved for use in the country, all of which are considered less effective than western-made vaccines that use new mRNA technology.

11,500 BioNTech ( 22UAy.DE ) mRNA vaccines for German citizens in China have arrived at the German embassy in Beijing, an embassy spokesman told Reuters on Friday.

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The embassy hopes the first dose will be delivered “as soon as possible”, the spokesman said.

No information

The World Health Organization has not received any data on new Covid hospitalizations from China since Beijing lifted its zero-covid policy. The WHO said gaps in the data could be due to Chinese authorities struggling to count cases.

Amid growing doubts about Beijing’s statistics, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Thursday said all countries, including China, should share information about their experiences with Covid.

As Covid spreads in China, long-isolated residents are now learning to live with the virus.

Chinese teacher Yang Zhengdong, whose entire family is quarantined in a Shanghai apartment after suffering a mild case of Covid, welcomes the policy change. Weeks ago, they would have all been sent to an isolation facility and their building locked down.

“When I think about this situation, I think, wow, we are very lucky because now we can isolate at home,” Yang said.

“This wave is something we have to face because it’s 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; By Marius Zaharia; Editing Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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