China’s already crowded health care system is getting ready for a peak in COVID infections.
China is expecting a peak in COVID-19 infections within a week, according to a health official. Authorities are worried that this will put more stress on the country’s health system, even though they continue to play down the severity of the disease and say that no new deaths have been reported.
In response to a growing outbreak and widespread protests against its “zero-COVID” regime of lockdowns and testing, China started taking it apart this month, making it the last major country to move toward living with the virus.
Its efforts to keep things under control had slowed the economy to its slowest rate of growth in almost 50 years and slowed down trade and supply chains around the world. As more and more Chinese workers get sick, more problems are likely to happen in the short term, but the economy is expected to get better by the end of next year.
Related: The world worries about a new wave of China’s COVID and thinks about how to help Xi.
China reported fewer than 4,000 new COVID cases with symptoms on Dec. 22, and for the third day in a row, no new COVID deaths. Authorities have made it harder to qualify as a COVID death, which has been criticised by many disease experts.
The director of China’s National Center for Infectious Diseases, Zhang Wenhong, was quoted in The Paper, a newspaper backed by the Shanghai government, on Thursday. He said that China “is expected to reach the peak of infections within a week.”
“The peak infection will also increase the number of severe diseases, which will have an effect on all of our medical resources,” he said, adding that the wave would continue for another one or two months after that.
“We have to be mentally ready for the fact that we will get sick.”
Still, Zhang said that he had been to nursing homes around Shanghai and seen that there were not many older people with severe symptoms.
Stock markets in China, Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia went down because people were worried about the short-term effects of China’s COVID wave. The yuan also lost value.
This week, a British health data firm called Airfinity said that the official data on infections and deaths in China is “in stark contrast” to what the real numbers are.
A hospital in Shanghai said that by the end of next week, half of the city’s 25 million people would be sick. Experts say that more than a million COVID deaths could happen in China next year.
China’s sudden policy change caught a weak health system by surprise. Hospitals were scrambling to find beds and blood; pharmacies were scrambling to find drugs; and government officials were rushing to build clinics.
More than a dozen global health experts, epidemiologists, locals, and political analysts who were interviewed by Reuters said that the strain on China’s medical infrastructure was caused by not vaccinating the elderly and not telling the public about an exit plan, as well as putting too much emphasis on getting rid of the virus.
Since three weeks ago, people have been trying to get older people to get vaccinated. China’s overall vaccination rate is higher than 90%, but the rate drops to 57.9% for adults who have had booster shots and to 42.3% for people 80 and older, according to government data.
People said that China spent a lot of money on testing and quarantine facilities over the past three years instead of improving hospitals and clinics and training medical staff.
“They have had a lot of time to get ready for the virus, but they haven’t done nearly enough,” said Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases doctor at Singapore’s Rophi Clinic.
The National Health Commission of China did not answer questions about the criticisms.
There are nine COVID shots made in the country that are approved for use. All of them are thought to be less effective than vaccines made in the West that use the new mRNA technology.
A spokesperson for the German embassy in Beijing told Reuters on Friday that a shipment of 11,500 BioNTech mRNA vaccines for German citizens in China had arrived.
A spokesperson for the embassy said that they hoped the first doses would be given out “as soon as possible.”
Since China got rid of its “zero-COVID” policy, the WHO hasn’t heard from China about any new COVID hospitalizations. The WHO has said that gaps in data could be because Chinese officials are having trouble keeping track of cases.
In response to growing doubts about Beijing’s statistics, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that all countries, including China, need to share information about their experiences with COVID.
As COVID spreads through China, people who used to be isolated for long periods are now learning to live with it.
Related: As the number of COVID cases rises, people around the world are worried.
Yang Zengdong, a Chinese teacher, is happy about the change in policy. His whole family is sick with COVID and is staying in their downtown Shanghai apartment. A few weeks ago, they would have all been sent to a quarantine facility, and their building would have been locked.
Yang said, “When I think about this situation, all I can think is, wow, we are so lucky that we can now stay at home and be alone.”
“We have to deal with this wave because we can’t keep our doors shut forever.”