China recently announced the loosening of Covid restrictions, but it might be too soon to celebrate. Some healthcare professionals are concerned that the easing of restrictions might translate to rising Covid cases.
Running out of fever medication
According to Financial Times (FT), Beijing is facing its first big Covid wave as the city sees Covid-designated clinics filling up. The city is also reported to be running out of medical supplies, specifically fever medication and Antigen Rapid Test (ART) kits.
Queues reportedly formed even in freezing weather as people lined up for medication like paracetamol and ibuprofen. But they were turned away almost immediately as pharmacists said they were completely out of stock.
A doctor at Shanghai’s Sixth People’s Hospital told FT that he’s concerned about healthcare workers potentially facing a surging number of Covid patients when they are already overworked, and are barely able to maintain normal operations these days.
This comes as Chinese cities have begun a shift in its zero-Covid policy and eased most restrictions, with Beijing allowing home quarantine for Covid patients who are asymptomatic or have mild cases.
Doctors in Beijing are also reportedly urging patients to remain at home instead of visiting the clinics, which might already be overwhelmed.
Official data paints different picture
However, official data appears to indicate the opposite, with China’s health ministry, the National Health Commission, reporting a decreasing trend in Covid cases. 4,079 new Covid cases were reported on Dec. 7 — a decrease from the numbers reported on Dec. 5 and 6, which were 5,046 and 4,409 respectively.
According to analysts that FT talked to, the country is underreporting its cases and fatalities in an attempt to conceal the severity of its health crisis. An analyst also opined that official data appears to be incongruent with observations on the ground, citing “high infection numbers” in Baoding city in Hebei province.
A Bloomberg report also suggests that undetected Covid cases are on the rise. Health specialists Bloomberg talked to are also of the opinion that actual infections will greatly exceed the official tally.
Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Atlantic that even if China manages to prevent a sharp rise in the number of deaths, it would still be unable to prevent “a surge of cases” as it transitions from its zero-Covid policy.
A potential Covid wave might also be coming, given that millions of people will be travelling from the cities to rural villages for the Chinese New Year holidays in January 2023.
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