Chinese health authorities have raised concerns about the Covid-19 outbreak among frontline medical workers and migrant workers returning home during the Lunar New Year holiday, as ill-prepared rural areas could be overwhelmed by the virus.
“One of our biggest challenges is how hospitals cope with a surge in infections among doctors and nurses,” a health official in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, told the Financial Times.
The official, who asked not to be identified, added that infections among health workers were “an important factor” in a decision by officials in Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei Province, last month, a short-lived experiment with loose ” Null-Covid” undo ” controls.
In recent days, however, cities across China have accelerated the lifting of strict pandemic restrictions — partly in response to nationwide protests over President Xi Jinping’s controversial zero-Covid policy.
On Tuesday, Beijing announced that people entering most public buildings will no longer be required to show a negative coronavirus test result, after the Shanghai government took a similar step on Monday. Testing sites in many cities are now urging people not to queue for tests unless it is “really necessary”.
Kelly Xiao, a Guangzhou-based accountant, recently tried to get her four-year-old daughter to a local hospital after she developed cold symptoms and a fever, but was turned away.
“The nurses told us there were already dozens of positives [Covid] cases there,” she said. “I was advised by one of the nurses that if [a home] rapid antigen test was negative, it would be safer to keep my daughter at home.”
The Guangzhou official added that the city will also discourage its millions of migrant workers from returning to their hometowns for next month’s Lunar New Year, mostly in rural inland areas. The holiday, which begins Jan. 21, is China’s biggest holiday of the year, triggering the world’s largest annual migration of people, an event dubbed the “spring rush.” Chunyun.
“We have to make sure this is this year Chunyun not returning to pre-pandemic levels,” the official said. “We are concerned about third and fourth tier cities where hospitals are underdeveloped and local residents are less well informed [about Covid]. Their healthcare systems could be overwhelmed.”
China’s first Covid outbreak, which raged for weeks after the virus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, was complicated by widespread infections among medical workers, many of whom died.
There have also been reports on social media of an outbreak in Baoding, a city about 150km southwest of Beijing, where authorities have reported a few new cases. “A lot of people around us have Covid but are just taking medication at home,” said one resident, who asked not to be identified. “To go to malls or supermarkets, no tests are required.”
The FT has been unable to independently verify reports of an outbreak in Baoding.
The eased testing requirements have raised questions about the reliability of China’s National Health Commission’s daily count of Covid cases, which on Tuesday reported 27,847 new infections for the previous day.
Located in the Hebei province surrounding Beijing, Baoding has a population of 75 million. The province reported just 184 new infections on Tuesday.
Reports by Sun Yu in New York, Qianer Liu in Hong Kong, Xinning Liu in Beijing and Tom Mitchell in Singapore