| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

China’s stretched health system braces for peak in COVID infections

Health officials in China forecast a peak in COVID-19 infections within a week, putting more strain on the nation’s healthcare system even as they downplay the severity of the illness and continue to claim no new deaths.

China, the last big nation to move toward accepting the virus, started dismantling its “zero-COVID” regime of lockdowns and testing this month in the face of a swelling outbreak and loud protests.

Its containment measures had slowed the $17-trillion economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, jamming global supply chains and trade.

China reported less than 4,000 new symptomatic local COVID cases nationwide for Dec. 22, and no new COVID deaths for a third consecutive day. Authorities have narrowed the criteria for COVID deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts.

Zhang Wenhong, director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, was quoted in Shanghai government-backed news outlet The Paper on Thursday as saying China “is expected to reach the peak of infections within a week.”

“The peak infection will also increase the rate of severe disease, which will have a certain impact on our entire medical resources,” he said, adding the wave will last another one or two months after that.

“We must be mentally prepared that infection is inevitable.”

Chinese state media Qingdao Daily late on Friday cited a health official in eastern city of Qingdao as saying coronavirus was in rapid transmission stage in the city with 490,000-530,000 new daily infections, which was set to increase at a rate of 10% in the next couple of days.

Nevertheless, Zhang said he had visited nursing homes around Shanghai, noticing the number of elderly dealing with severe symptoms was low.

Nearly 37 million people in China may have been infected with COVID-19 on a single day this week, Bloomberg News reported on Friday, citing estimates from the government’s top health authority.

Worries over the near-term impact of China’s COVID wave pushed stock markets in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia lower. The yuan also weakened.

Infections in China are likely to be more than a million a day with deaths at more than 5,000 a day, in “stark contrast” with official data, British-based health data firm Airfinity said this week.

A Shanghai hospital has estimated half of the commercial hub’s 25 million people would get infected by the end of next week. Experts say China could face more than a million COVID deaths next year.

Cities, meanwhile, continue to ease rules.

Shanghai said people who had tested positive will be allowed to end home isolation after seven days if their symptoms significantly abate or end, without mentioning the need to undertake more tests.

The guidance from earlier this month had said they could end home isolation after testing negative on antigen and PCR tests.

  • Reuters