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Chinese hospitals ‘swamped’ with Covid patients amid eased lockdown

Chinese hospitals are ‘swamped’ with Covid patients and running out of medicines while an increasing numbers of doctors are catching virus days after brutal lockdown was finally relaxed

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China is suffering through a brutal wave of Covid spurred by a rapid loosening of strict lockdown laws that had sparked mass demonstrations against Xi Jinping. Hospitals are ‘swamped’ with sick patients, fever clinics have long lines of people waiting for treatment, and an increasing number of doctors and nurses also falling sick, according to posts on the country’s state-controlled social media networks.

Officially, Chinese case numbers are falling but only after the national health commission said it had stopped logging infections with low or no symptoms – which make up the bulk of daily totals. PCR testing has also been ramped down. Experts had warned that China would be walloped by a wave of infection as it eased restrictions, because lockdowns mean no natural immunity has built up and Beijing's vaccines are believed to be less effective than Western equivalents.

Officially, Chinese case numbers are falling but only after the national health commission said it had stopped logging infections with low or no symptoms – which make up the bulk of daily totals. PCR testing has also been ramped down. Experts had warned that China would be walloped by a wave of infection as it eased restrictions, because lockdowns mean no natural immunity has built up and Beijing’s vaccines are believed to be less effective than Western equivalents. 

Analysts who spoke to MailOnline said the risks of the Chinese health system being overwhelmed are 'considerable,' at which point deaths will start mounting because people cannot access care. But it seems the Communist Party's fear of losing control of the public has outweighed its fear of a potentially crippling epidemic. 'Our hospital is overwhelmed with patients. There are 700, 800 people with fever coming every day,' said a doctor surnamed Li at a tertiary hospital in Sichuan.

Analysts who spoke to MailOnline said the risks of the Chinese health system being overwhelmed are ‘considerable,’ at which point deaths will start mounting because people cannot access care. But it seems the Communist Party’s fear of losing control of the public has outweighed its fear of a potentially crippling epidemic. ‘Our hospital is overwhelmed with patients. There are 700, 800 people with fever coming every day,’ said a doctor surnamed Li at a tertiary hospital in Sichuan. 

'We are running out of medicine stocks for fever and cold, now waiting for delivery from our suppliers. A few nurses at the fever clinic were tested positive, there aren't any special protective measures for hospital staff and I believe many of us will soon get infected,' Li added. A nurse at another hospital in Chengdu said: 'I was swamped with nearly 200 patients with COVID symptoms last night.' Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at Hong Kong University, said insufficient medical resources to cope with an overload of COVID cases contributed to a surge in deaths in Hong Kong when infections peaked there earlier this year, and he warned that the same was going to happen in China.

‘We are running out of medicine stocks for fever and cold, now waiting for delivery from our suppliers. A few nurses at the fever clinic were tested positive, there aren’t any special protective measures for hospital staff and I believe many of us will soon get infected,’ Li added. A nurse at another hospital in Chengdu said: ‘I was swamped with nearly 200 patients with COVID symptoms last night.’ Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at Hong Kong University, said insufficient medical resources to cope with an overload of COVID cases contributed to a surge in deaths in Hong Kong when infections peaked there earlier this year, and he warned that the same was going to happen in China. 

'One of the reasons we had such a high mortality rate (in Hong Kong) is because we simply didn't have enough hospital resources to cope in the surge. And unfortunately, that is what is going to happen in about one to two months time in the mainland,' Cowling said. He said a surge in severe cases coupled with a surge of mild cases among the elderly who needed monitoring overwhelmed Hong Kong's hospitals, and recommended separate isolation facilities for the elderly with mild cases to free up hospital beds. State media Xinhua reported on Tuesday in capital Beijing 50 patients are currently in a serious or critical condition in hospital with COVID.

‘One of the reasons we had such a high mortality rate (in Hong Kong) is because we simply didn’t have enough hospital resources to cope in the surge. And unfortunately, that is what is going to happen in about one to two months time in the mainland,’ Cowling said. He said a surge in severe cases coupled with a surge of mild cases among the elderly who needed monitoring overwhelmed Hong Kong’s hospitals, and recommended separate isolation facilities for the elderly with mild cases to free up hospital beds. State media Xinhua reported on Tuesday in capital Beijing 50 patients are currently in a serious or critical condition in hospital with COVID. 

Some hospitals in Beijing have up to 80% of their staff infected, but many of them are still required to work due to staff shortages, a doctor in a large public hospital in Beijing told Reuters. All operations and surgeries have been cancelled at his hospital unless the patient is 'dying tomorrow,' he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A post on the Weibo social media platform recounted a recent experience at the emergency ward at Beijing Hospital. 'Those who have not been to the emergency department of Beijing Hospital don't know what a mess it has become,' wrote a Weibo user called Moshang. The post went on to say that people in serious need of surgery were being made to wait.

Some hospitals in Beijing have up to 80% of their staff infected, but many of them are still required to work due to staff shortages, a doctor in a large public hospital in Beijing told Reuters. All operations and surgeries have been cancelled at his hospital unless the patient is ‘dying tomorrow,’ he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A post on the Weibo social media platform recounted a recent experience at the emergency ward at Beijing Hospital. ‘Those who have not been to the emergency department of Beijing Hospital don’t know what a mess it has become,’ wrote a Weibo user called Moshang. The post went on to say that people in serious need of surgery were being made to wait. 

Beijing Hospital did not immediately respond to a Reuters' request for comment. Complicating the picture for Chinese leaders is the fact that daily case reporting and testing has been ramped down in recent days, meaning it is hard to get a true picture of the size of the epidemic and therefore hard to prioritize resources. A Beijing resident surnamed Zhu said they developed a sore throat and a fever, but wasn't able to confirm whether they had the coronavirus because of a lack of antigen test kits. 'Beijing is really confused right now,' Zhu said, declining to provide their full name to speak on what could be seen as a sensitive topic in China. 'They made a complete 180-degree turn without even going through a transitionary period.' Despite a push to boost vaccinations among the elderly, two centers set up in Beijing to administer shots were empty on Tuesday except for medical personnel.

Beijing Hospital did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment. Complicating the picture for Chinese leaders is the fact that daily case reporting and testing has been ramped down in recent days, meaning it is hard to get a true picture of the size of the epidemic and therefore hard to prioritize resources. A Beijing resident surnamed Zhu said they developed a sore throat and a fever, but wasn’t able to confirm whether they had the coronavirus because of a lack of antigen test kits. ‘Beijing is really confused right now,’ Zhu said, declining to provide their full name to speak on what could be seen as a sensitive topic in China. ‘They made a complete 180-degree turn without even going through a transitionary period.’ Despite a push to boost vaccinations among the elderly, two centers set up in Beijing to administer shots were empty on Tuesday except for medical personnel. 

Despite fears of a major outbreak, there was little evidence of a surge in patient numbers. At the China-Japan Friendship Hospital's fever clinic in Beijing, a dozen people waited for nucleic acid test results. Nurses in full-body white protective gear checked in patients one by one.  A few kilometers south, at Chaoyang Hospital, about a dozen people waited in a line of blue tents, deflecting winds amid subzero temperatures. One person in the queue took out a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed it around her as she waited. Across the street at Gaoji Baikang Pharmacy, around a dozen people waited in line for cough medication and Chinese herbal remedies.

Despite fears of a major outbreak, there was little evidence of a surge in patient numbers. At the China-Japan Friendship Hospital’s fever clinic in Beijing, a dozen people waited for nucleic acid test results. Nurses in full-body white protective gear checked in patients one by one.  A few kilometers south, at Chaoyang Hospital, about a dozen people waited in a line of blue tents, deflecting winds amid subzero temperatures. One person in the queue took out a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed it around her as she waited. Across the street at Gaoji Baikang Pharmacy, around a dozen people waited in line for cough medication and Chinese herbal remedies.

A sign at the front told waiting customers: 'Avoid panic and hoarding, we are doing all we can to stock up to fulfill your medicinal needs.' A man coming out had bought two packages of Lianhua Qingwen, a Chinese herbal remedy, saying that each customer was restricted from buying any more than that. Inquiries to health hotlines have increased six-fold, according to state media. Since Tuesday, the U.S. consulates in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang and the central city of Wuhan have been offering only emergency services 'in response to increased number of COVID-19 cases,' the State Department said. President Xi Jinping's government is still officially committed to stopping virus transmission.

A sign at the front told waiting customers: ‘Avoid panic and hoarding, we are doing all we can to stock up to fulfill your medicinal needs.’ A man coming out had bought two packages of Lianhua Qingwen, a Chinese herbal remedy, saying that each customer was restricted from buying any more than that. Inquiries to health hotlines have increased six-fold, according to state media. Since Tuesday, the U.S. consulates in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang and the central city of Wuhan have been offering only emergency services ‘in response to increased number of COVID-19 cases,’ the State Department said. President Xi Jinping’s government is still officially committed to stopping virus transmission.

But the latest moves suggest the party will tolerate more cases without quarantines or shutting down travel or businesses as it winds down its 'zero-COVID' strategy. Despite relaxed rules, restaurants were mostly closed or empty in the capital. Many businesses are having difficulty finding enough staff who haven't gotten infected. Sanlitun, one of Beijing's most popular shopping districts, was deserted despite having its anti-COVID-19 fences taken down in recent days. Hospitals have also reportedly been struggling to remain staffed, while packages were piling up at distribution points because of a shortage of China's ubiquitous motorized tricycle delivery drivers.

But the latest moves suggest the party will tolerate more cases without quarantines or shutting down travel or businesses as it winds down its ‘zero-COVID’ strategy. Despite relaxed rules, restaurants were mostly closed or empty in the capital. Many businesses are having difficulty finding enough staff who haven’t gotten infected. Sanlitun, one of Beijing’s most popular shopping districts, was deserted despite having its anti-COVID-19 fences taken down in recent days. Hospitals have also reportedly been struggling to remain staffed, while packages were piling up at distribution points because of a shortage of China’s ubiquitous motorized tricycle delivery drivers.

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