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SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Shanghai hospitals have instructed staff to prepare for a “tragic battle” against the novel coronavirus, which has swept China largely unchecked.
After widespread protests against draconian mitigation measures, China this month began dismantling its “zero COVID” regime, which has taken a heavy toll on 1.4 billion people economically and psychologically.
China’s official death toll has stood at 5,241 since the pandemic began three years ago, a fraction of the number faced by most other countries, but now looks to be rising sharply. .
China reported no new COVID deaths for the second day in a row on Wednesday, even as funeral home workers said demand for services had risen sharply over the past week.
Officials, who have narrowed down the criteria for death from COVID and sparked criticism from many disease experts, have confirmed 389,306 cases with symptoms.
Some experts say the official number of cases has become an unreliable guide because testing stopped after restrictions were eased.
China could see more than 1 million cases a day and more than 5,000 deaths a day, in “a stark contrast” to official data, according to UK-based health data. The company Airfinity announced this week.
Airfinity said it looked at data from provincial provinces in China, noting a sharp rise in cases in the capital Beijing and southern Guangdong province.
Posting on its WeChat account late Wednesday, Shanghai Desi Hospital estimated that there are about 5.43 million positive cases in the city and 12.5 million infected by the end of the year in China’s major commercial hub.
“This year’s Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day and Chinese New Year are destined to be unsafe,” said the private hospital, which employs about 400 staff.
“In this tragic battle, the entire Greater Shanghai will collapse, and all the staff of the hospital will be infected! ”
This post was no longer available on WeChat by Thursday afternoon. A person who answered the hospital’s main line said he could not immediately comment on this article.
Shanghai residents endured a two-month lockdown that ended June 1, leaving many without income and struggling to find basic necessities. Hundreds of people have died and hundreds of thousands have been infected in the last two months.
Much of Shanghai was as deserted as it was then on Thursday, with many residents isolated and businesses forced to close as employees fell ill.
“All the employees are sick,” said a supermarket worker as he closed the door. He said he hopes to resume on December 30.
Despite the new infectious disease, the last vestiges of the “COVID Zero” policy are being destroyed. China will ease quarantine requirements for international travelers in January, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Experts say China could face more than 1 million COVID deaths next year, given the relatively low rate of full vaccination among vulnerable older populations.
Vaccine coverage in China is over 90%, but the proportion of adults receiving a boost has dropped to 57.9%, and for those aged 80 and over to 42.3%.
Footage from a Beijing hospital broadcast on state television CCTV showed lines of elderly patients breathing through oxygen masks in intensive care units. It was not clear how many of them had her COVID.
Han Xue, deputy director of the hospital’s emergency department, told CCTV that the hospital receives 400 patients a day. This is four times his normal.
“These patients are all elderly with underlying illnesses, fevers and respiratory infections and are in very serious condition,” Han said.
The director-general of the World Health Organization said he was concerned about the surge in infections and supported governments to focus on vaccinating those most at risk.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and intensive care unit requirements is needed for a comprehensive assessment.
China’s reversal has found its fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals competing for beds and blood, pharmacies clamoring for medicines and authorities rushing to build clinics.
Small cities away from wealthy coastal areas are particularly vulnerable. Tongchuan, a city of 700,000 people in northwestern Shaanxi province, on Wednesday called on all medical workers who have retired in the past five years to join him in his fight against COVID.
Local governments are trying to address drug shortages, and drug companies are working over time to increase supplies, according to state media.
Germany said it sent the first batch of BioNTech (22UAy.DE) COVID vaccine to China and administered it to German expatriates first. Berlin is asking to allow other foreigners to take them.
BioNTech announced Thursday that it has shipped 11,500 doses of the vaccine to China.
These are the first mRNA vaccines available in China that are believed to be the most effective against this disease.
The German embassy in Beijing asked its citizens to register to get the vaccine. China’s foreign ministry said the two sides were discussing how to arrange the distribution of the vaccine to Germans.
China has approved nine domestically developed COVID vaccines for use.
Reporting by Bernard Orr, Martin Pollard and Ella Kao from Beijing, Zoe Chang and Casey Hall from Shanghai. Written by Marius Zaharia and Ben Blanchard.Edited by Lincoln Feast, Jacqueline Wong and Toby Chopra
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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