China’s healthcare system has been tested as COVID restrictions ease

China's healthcare system has been tested as COVID restrictions ease
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BAODING, China, Dec 11 (Reuters) – When Li tested positive for COVID-19 in the northern Chinese city of Baoding on Tuesday, he prepared for a five-day quarantine at a makeshift local hospital as part of the country’s strict pandemic controls.

China the next day instead suddenly relieved a policy that has turned the world’s most populous country into an outlier in a world largely learning to live with COVID.

Li, 30, who asked to be identified only by his last name, told Reuters he was being allowed to recover at home in an industrial city near the capital, Beijing.

But a sudden change of policy caught him off-guard—he was left alone, with no medicine to cure his fever at home.

“At that time, I couldn’t buy any medicine because there were long queues everywhere outside pharmacies,” Lee told Reuters.

Three years after the coronavirus emerged in central China, some citizens have recently launched rare public protests against the zero-COVID policy, which calls for economically disruptive lockdowns and mandatory quarantines at state-owned enterprises.

But Beijing’s sharp policy shift on Wednesday, which was hailed by some, also created a spark fear In a country with a relatively low vaccination rate where people are taught to fear disease.

China’s easing of mandatory PCR testing of its 1.4 billion people has weakened the ability of health authorities to quickly detect cases and measure how infections spread, disrupting society and the economy.

Authorities have not predicted how many people will become seriously ill or die since the restrictions were eased. In October, China predicted at least 100 deaths for every 100,000 infections.


Baoding, home to 9.2 million people, has drawn attention on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, with posts from people with COVID pointing to scant medical supplies as infections soar.

Some stocks have been replenished, Reuters found on a visit, with many pharmacies stocked with cold medicines such as Ibuprofen. But Lianhua Qingwen, a popular traditional Chinese medicine used for symptoms such as fever and cough, and antigen test kits were harder to find.

Baoding is not alone. Online pharmacies in China have run out of drugs and test kits, prompting the government to do so break on the collection.

Authorities urged households to report severe symptoms using self-administered antigen kits. However, these kits are still difficult to obtain, increasing the risk that seriously ill patients will not be treated immediately.

Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said that regardless of how many people are caught in the test numbers, “the number of infections will certainly increase” in the coming weeks. He warned that severe infections will also increase.

China has 138,100 hospital beds for critical care, which a health official recently said is low for China’s wider population.


As more COVID patients recover at home, Baoding faces a winter heating supply crisis, raising the risk of serious illness. The heating was insufficient due to “unstable” coal supplies caused by COVID, the state-run Baoding Daily reported.

Wang, a 20-year-old resident of Baoding, said the temperature in his home was only 18 degrees Celsius (64 Fahrenheit). Two members of his family have COVID.

“We used to joke that the residents of Baoding don’t need heat because we can warm ourselves with our own body heat,” he said.

Health officials acknowledge that the elderly are particularly vulnerable and that more vaccinations are needed.

People over the age of 65 have a 5-fold higher risk of serious illness than younger people, a 7-fold higher risk for people over 75 years old, and a 9-fold higher risk of death in people over 85 years old, and 90, 220, and 570 times higher, respectively. An official from the Chinese Center for Disease Control.

But the appeal for seniors to better protect themselves has been undermined by the simultaneous message that the Omicron variant is not lethal.

Young, 64, was reluctant to stockpile. Yang, a farmer who is fully vaccinated and has no underlying illnesses, said he has “no fear” of COVID.

China has reported no deaths since easing its COVID restrictions, with more than 1 million in the U.S., with nearly 5,200 deaths so far.

But time will tell if it is US scale mortality rate4 million deaths in China would mean that this could have been avoided.

Reporting by Ella Cao and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Darerca Siu in Hong Kong; Edited by William Mallard

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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