Chinese authorities are rushing to increase intensive care beds, health workers and increase drug supplies as Covid-19 surges through the country.
Cases in China have skyrocketed since the abrupt dismantling of the strict zero-Covid regime. A full picture of the impact is difficult to assess. Authorities have conceded it is “impossible” for the testing system to keep track, and the tight parameters for attributing deaths to the virus mean the official figure – less than 10 this week – is at odds with widely held ones anecdotal reports of deaths and high traffic stands undertakers.
At least one major funeral home in Beijing was heavily guarded by security forces and police on Tuesday after recent media reports of long hearse lines.
Numerous state media reports on Tuesday covered the increased efforts to strengthen health infrastructure and supplies.
Several major city hospitals were procuring more ventilators and other emergency equipment, according to the Global Times. Citing experts, the report said there were also major concerns about staffing levels, particularly critical care workers. Last week it was reported that doctors and nurses were being forced to work even after testing positive.
According to the report, hospitals would “urgently” borrow staff from other facilities to retrain them. Henan province aimed to more than double the number of intensive care units and increase the number of doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit nearly tenfold.
Guangzhou, a city of 15 million people, has increased the number of fever clinics from 40,000 to as many as 110,000 patients a day. It is also working to increase the number of intensive care unit beds from 455 to 1,385 by the end of today, the People’s Daily reported.
Meanwhile, the city of Nanjing has imposed purchase restrictions on ibuprofen and other drugs as it and other regions scramble to increase over-the-counter drug supplies.
On Saturday, the National Health Commission (NHC) also revised guidelines to allow people to donate blood seven days after they last tested positive for Covid, after the outbreak was linked to shortages.
In Beijing, Reuters reported that a designated Covid-19 crematorium, where a long line of hearses and workers in hazmat suits had carried the dead in over the weekend, was heavily guarded on Tuesday. Reuters could not immediately determine whether the dead people taken there were Covid deaths.
The current wave is expected to peak in major cities this month before a second and third wave is expected following the Lunar New Year travel and subsequent return to work.
Despite this, the government pushed ahead with the reopening. China’s economy has been hurt by the collapse of the real estate sector and the disruptions to production and supply chains caused by zero-Covid.
On Tuesday, the World Bank lowered its forecast for China’s growth in 2022 to 2.7% from the 4.3% forecast in June.
An editorial in the People’s Daily earlier in the morning said there were “signs of recovery” in China’s economy, “whether these longtime naysayers like it or not.”
However, there are widespread reports of staffing problems across China as employees fall ill. Zhejiang and Anhui provinces and the city of Chongqing are among the places where authorities have reportedly said people with mild or asymptomatic Covid can return to work “under conditions of good protection”.
A news account on Weibo called China Business News said the ruling would likely reduce overwhelming demand for rapid antigen tests previously required for return to work.
The announcement was a top trending topic on Weibo with more than 150 million views.
“Doesn’t that encourage contagion to all employees to increase the peak contagion count?” said one commenter.
“You should come to work sick too, that’s a real capitalist,” said another.
“Colleagues who are positive are forced to sit on duty, but none of the executives come to work at the company,” reads one complaint.
China’s social media is heavily regulated and subject to strict censorship, but the sudden reopening and subsequent spike in cases and deaths has been widely discussed online with some disbelief. On Monday, thousands of comments went unseen under a post that had reported the weekend’s official death toll as just three.
In the official state media, Xinhua, an editorial on Tuesday praised the online discussion, which has seen numerous posts about infections and symptoms and attempts to source sold-out drugs, as “the heartwarming force of encouragement and mutual aid.”