China races to bolster health system as COVID surge sparks global concern

  • Officials are rushing to add hospital beds, build fever clinics
  • The United States is increasing its concerns about the possibility of a Covid mutation
  • Beijing reported five more deaths on Tuesday
  • Amid doubts about the death toll, strict measures are in place at the crematoria

BEIJING/SINGAPORE, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Cities across China scrambled to install hospital beds and build fever screening clinics on Tuesday as authorities reported five more deaths and international concern over Beijing’s surprise decision to release increased from the virus.

China began dismantling its strict “zero-covid” quarantine and testing regime this month after protests against restrictions that kept the virus at bay for three years but cost society and the world’s second-largest economy. did

Now, as the virus sweeps through a country of 1.4 billion people that lacks natural immunity and has long been protected, there is growing concern about the potential death toll, the mutation of the virus and its impact on the economy and business. .

“Each new wave of pandemics in another country brings with it the risk of new types, and that risk increases the more outbreaks there are, and the current wave in China is shaping up to be a big one,” said Alex Cook, the university’s vice president for research. Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore.

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However, in order to reach an indigenous status, in a future without quarantine and the economic and political damage caused by it, China will inevitably have to overcome a large wave of COVID-19.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the possibility of the virus mutating as it spreads in China is “a threat to people everywhere.”

Xu Wenbo, an official at China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters that new mutations would occur but played down concerns.

“The immune evasion ability of new species becomes stronger and more contagious,” Shu said. But the possibility of them becoming more deadly is low.

Beijing reported five Covid-related deaths on Tuesday, following two on Monday, the first reported toll in weeks. In total, China has reported 5,242 Covid-related deaths since the epidemic emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, which is very low by global standards.

But there are growing doubts that the statistics reflect the true impact of a disease in cities after China lifted restrictions, including mandatory tests, on December 7.

Since then, some hospitals have been flooded, pharmacies have run out of medicine, while many people have been quarantined, straining delivery services.

Some health experts estimate that 60 percent of China’s population — equivalent to 10 percent of the world’s population — could contract the virus in the coming months, and more than 2 million people could die.

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In the capital, Beijing, security guards patrolled the entrance to a crematorium marked for Covid-19, where Reuters journalists on Saturday saw a long line of hearses and workers in scrubs carrying the dead inside. Reuters could not determine whether the deaths were due to Covid.

Wang Guiqiang, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Peking University First Hospital, said at the same news conference as Xu that only deaths from pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting Covid are classified as Covid-related deaths. Heart attacks or cardiovascular diseases that cause the death of infected people do not receive this classification.

‘getting sick’

In Beijing, which has emerged as the epicenter of the infection, commuters, many coughing into their masks, returned to work on trains and the streets came alive again after being largely deserted last week.

Streets and subway trains were emptier in Shanghai, where the rate of Covid-19 transmission approaches that of Beijing.

“People stay away because they’re sick or they’re afraid of getting sick, but mostly now, I think it’s because they’re really sick,” said Yang, an instructor at a nearly empty gym in Shanghai.

Senior health officials have softened their tone on the threat posed by the disease in recent weeks.

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Still, there are growing signs that the virus is taking its toll on China’s fragile health system.

Cities are stepping up efforts to expand intensive care units and build fever clinics, facilities designed to prevent the wider spread of infectious diseases in hospitals.

In the past week, major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Wenzhou have announced the addition of hundreds of fever clinics, some of them located in converted sports venues.

The virus is also hitting China’s economy, which is expected to grow 3 percent this year, its worst performance in nearly half a century. Economists say workers who get sick slow production and disrupt logistics.

China’s business confidence fell to its lowest level since January 2013 in December, a World Economy survey showed.

Weaker industrial activity in the world’s biggest oil importer has limited gains in crude prices and lowered copper.

China kept lending rates unchanged for the fourth consecutive month.

Reporting by Bernard Orr, Albie Zhang, Ethan Wang and Xiao Yin in Beijing, Xinghui Kok and Chen Lin in Singapore, David Stanway and Casey Hall in Shanghai and Humira Pamuk in Washington; By John Geddy and Marius Zaharia. Edited by Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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