Chinese authorities are rushing to boost the number of intensive care beds and health workers and increase medication supplies as Covid-19 surges through the country.
Since the abrupt dismantling of the stringent zero-Covid regime, cases have skyrocketed in China. A full picture of the impact is difficult to gauge. Authorities have conceded it is “impossible” for the testing system to keep track, and the narrow parameters for attributing deaths to the virus mean the official count – fewer than 10 this week – is at odds with widespread anecdotal reports of fatalities and high traffic at funeral homes.
At least one major funeral home in Beijing was heavily guarded by security and police on Tuesday, after recent media reports of long lines of hearses.
Numerous state media reports on Tuesday reported on the increased efforts to boost health infrastructure and supplies.
According to the Global Times, several major city hospitals were sourcing more ventilators and other emergency equipment. Citing experts, the report said there were also major concerns about staffing levels, particularly intensive care nurses. Last week it was reported doctors and nurses were being made to work even after testing positive.
The report said hospitals were “urgently” borrowing staff from other facilities to retrain them. Henan province was aiming to more than double the number of intensive care units, and increase the number of ICU doctors and nurses almost 10-fold.
Guangzhou, a city of 15 million, has increased the number of fever clinics to allow for as many as 110,000 patients a day, up from 40,000. It is also working to increase the number of ICU beds from 455 to 1,385 by the end of today, the People’s Daily reported.
Meanwhile, Nanjing city has introduced purchase limits on ibuprofen and other drugs, as it and other regions scramble to increase supply of the over-the-counter medications.
On Saturday the National Health Commission (NHC) also revised guidelines to allow people to give blood seven days after last testing positive for Covid, after the outbreak was linked to shortages.
In Beijing, Reuters reported a designated Covid-19 crematorium, where it had seen a long line of hearses and workers in hazmat suits carrying the dead inside on the weekend, was heavily guarded on Tuesday. Reuters could not immediately establish if the dead being taken there were Covid fatalities.
The current wave is expected to peak in major cities this month, before second and third waves are expected to hit after lunar new year travels and the subsequent return to work.
Despite this, the government has pushed ahead with the reopening. China’s economy has been damaged by a property sector collapse and the zero-Covid induced disruptions to production and supply chains.
On Tuesday the World Bank slashed its forecast for China’s 2022 growth, from the 4.3% predicted in June, to 2.7%.
An editorial in the People’s Daily had earlier that morning said “signs of recovery have begun to emerge” in China’s economy, “whether those longstanding doomsayers like it or not”.
However there are widespread reports of staffing issues across China, as employees fall ill. The provinces of Zhejiang and Anhui and the city of Chongqing are among the places authorities have reportedly said people can return to work if they have mild or asymptomatic Covid, “under the conditions of good protections”.
A news account on Weibo, named China Business News, said the ruling would probably lessen the overwhelming demand for rapid antigen tests, previously required to be allowed back to workplaces.
The announcement was a top trending topic on Weibo, with more than 150m views.
“Isn’t this encouraging the infection of all employees to increase the peak number of infections?” said one commenter.
“You should come to work even if you are sick, that’s a real capitalist,” said another.
“Colleagues who are positive are forced to sit on duty, but none of the leaders come to work in the company,” said one complaint.
China’s social media is highly regulated and with strict censorship, but the sudden reopening and subsequent rising case numbers and deaths have been widely discussed online, with some incredulity. On Monday, thousands of comments under a post which had reported the weekend’s official death toll as just three, were made unviewable.
In the official state media outlet, Xinhua, an editorial on Tuesday praised online discussion, casting the numerous posts about infections and symptoms, and attempts to source sold-out medication, as “the heartwarming power of encouragement and helping each other”.