China will not report asymptomatic COVID cases in another shift

BEIJING (AP) — China said Wednesday it would stop reporting asymptomatic COVID-19 cases as it has become impossible to track them as mass testing is no longer required, another step in the country’s move away from some the strictest antivirus guidelines in the world.

The change in reporting practices comes in the week after the country announced its most significant easing yet of antivirus measures. Meanwhile, China has begun to see what appears to be a rapid rise in new infections, raising concerns that its healthcare system may be overwhelmed, as was the case in other countries during the early COVID waves.

So far, many of the new patients are staying at home and there is little evidence of an increase in patient numbers. But getting a clear picture of the spread is difficult, and the new reporting rules could make that even more difficult. Some hospitals are reportedly struggling to stay staffed due to rising infections among staff.

A notice on the National Health Commission’s website on Wednesday said it had stopped releasing daily figures on asymptomatic COVID-19 cases because it was “impossible to accurately count the number of these infections,” which generally account for the preponderance majority of new cases can be attributed to

The only numbers the commission is reporting are confirmed cases discovered at public testing facilities that are showing symptoms. Many people also test at home, and positive results there are also not recorded.

The figures provided by the Chinese government have not been independently verified, and questions have been raised about whether the ruling Communist Party has tried to minimize the number of cases and deaths.

While many governments have long focused only on the more serious cases, the latest move is part of a sea change for China, which has maintained a “zero-COVID” policy aimed at eradicating all virus transmission.

That included frequent mass testing campaigns and meant anyone who tested positive was isolated in a state facility, even if they had no symptoms. Now people can recover at home if they do not need medical care.

While many greeted the easing of rules with relief, the rapid postponement has also raised some concerns after years of talk by the Chinese government about the virus as a major threat.

“Beijing is really confused right now,” said a resident surnamed Zhu. “They did a complete 180-degree turn without even going through a transition period.”

Zhu, who refused to give his full name to speak on an issue that could be considered sensitive in China, said he was unable to find a test after developing a sore throat and fever. Authorities have said they will provide 25 million rapid test kits to Beijing pharmacies after a rush for such shipments.

Despite the easing, the streets of many major Chinese cities have become eerily quiet as many people stay at home, not because they have to but because they are worried about catching the virus, at a time when social media is struggling light up with reports of infections.

As a clean bill of health is still required to enter restaurants and some other public establishments, many Chinese are also choosing to forgo such pleasures to avoid testing, leaving many establishments closed or empty.

On the normally busy streets around the old imperial palace complex in the heart of Beijing, Huang Hanxin said he is taking advantage of the lack of crowds.

“If it were a few years ago, there would be a lot of cars here and it would be crowded with people,” says the 19-year-old tourist from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, standing in front of a gate of the complex formerly known as the Forbidden City. β€œIt’s convenient to walk around and take photos.”

In contrast, lines have formed outside some fever clinics in Beijing, with numbers rising from 94 to more than 300.

Pharmacies in Beijing are rationing medicines and other supplies. Rapid antigen tests are sold out citywide and online.

At one facility, pharmacist Zhu Qianqian attended to a relentless flow of customers, inquiring about their symptoms and suggesting medications.

“It’s sold out so wait two days,” she told a woman with a prescription for cough syrup, handing her a pack of pills instead. “There will be more.”

Many times she has had to turn away customers who ask for the pain reliever ibuprofen or lianhuaqingwen, a popular Chinese herbal remedy. Both were sold out.

Some have taken to ordering from pharmacies in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, which has been steadily easing its restrictions without the chaos and uncertainty of the mainland. Like much of the world, Hong Kong uses mRNA vaccines that are widely believed to be more effective than those mandated by China.

Residents of other major cities, such as Guangzhou and Shanghai, who were reached by phone or messaging app also reported quiet streets.

Not everyone was concerned.

“A lot of people around me got (COVID),” said Ge Ge, who took her child to a Beijing hospital for a regular check-up. “It’s like a cold for a few days and doesn’t last long. I think everyone will get infected. There is no reason to be nervous.”

Older people are at higher risk of getting seriously ill, and China has tried to encourage immunization among the elderly. But two centers set up in Beijing to administer shots were empty except for medical staff on Tuesday.

Still, there was little evidence of an increase in hospital admissions.

At the Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing, about a dozen people waited in a row of blue tents in sub-zero temperatures. A similar number was waiting for test results a few kilometers away at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital’s fever clinic.

Nurses in white full body protective gear examining patients one by one at the clinic, one of the isolated wards that can be used to treat people with a reduced risk of infecting others.

According to state media, inquiries to health hotlines have increased sixfold.

Not counting asymptomatic cases, China reported just 2,249 “confirmed” infections on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 369,918 — more than double the Oct. 1 figure. It has recorded 5,235 deaths – compared to 1.1 million in the United States.

President Xi Jinping’s government remains officially committed to halting virus transmission. But recent moves suggest the party will tolerate more cases without quarantine or closures of travel or businesses.

As of Tuesday, China also stopped tracking some tripsalthough China’s international borders remain largely closed.

The move follows the government’s dramatic announcement last week that it was ending many of the strictest measures. That came after Beijing and several other cities saw protests against the measures that grew into calls for the resignation of Xi and the Communist Party – a level of public dissent not seen in decades.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *