Hospital warns of ‘tragic battle’ as Covid spreads in China

A Shanghai hospital has told its staff to prepare for a “tragic battle” with Covid-19 as it expects half of the city’s 25 million people will get infected by the end of next week, while the virus sweeps through China largely unchecked.

After widespread protests against strict mitigation measures, China this month began dismantling its “zero-Covid” regime, which had taken a great financial and psychological toll on its 1.4 billion people.

China’s official death count since the pandemic began three years ago stands at 5,241 — a fraction of what most other countries faced — but now looks bound to rise sharply.

China reported no new Covid deaths for a second consecutive day for Wednesday, even as funeral parlour workers say demand for their services has increased sharply over the past week.

Authorities — who have narrowed the criteria for Covid deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts — confirmed 389,306 cases with symptoms.

Some experts say official case figures have become an unreliable guide as less testing is being done following the easing of restrictions.

A Covid patient is wheeled on a stretcher at hospital in China's southwestern city of Chongqing on Thursday.
A Covid patient is wheeled on a stretcher at hospital in China’s southwestern city of Chongqing on Thursday. Noel Celis / AFP – Getty Images

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

Airfinity said it examined data from China’s regional provinces, noting that cases are rising quicker in capital Beijing and southern province Guangdong.

The Shanghai Deji Hospital, posting on its WeChat account late on Wednesday, estimated there were about 5.43 million positives in the city and that 12.5 million in China’s main commercial hub will get infected by the end of the year.

The post was no longer available on WeChat by Thursday afternoon. A person who answered the hospital’s main telephone line said they could not immediately comment on the article.

Shanghai residents endured a two-month lockdown that ended on June 1, with many losing income and struggling to find basic necessities. Hundreds died and hundreds of thousands were infected during those two months.

Health workers at a Covid testing booth in Shanghai on Thursdauy.
Health workers at a Covid testing booth in Shanghai on Thursday. Hector Retamal / AFP – Getty Images

China’s vaccination rate is over 90% but the rate for adults who have received booster shots drops to 57.9%, and to 42.3% for people aged 80 and above, government data shows.

Footage from a Beijing hospital on CCTV state television showed rows of elderly patients in the intensive care unit breathing through oxygen masks. It was not clear how many of them had Covid.

The deputy director of the hospital’s emergency department, Han Xue, told CCTV they were receiving 400 patients a day, four times more than usual.

“These patients are all elderly people who have underlying diseases, fever and respiratory infection, and they are in a very serious condition,” Han said.

The head of the World Health Organization said it was concerned about the spike in infections and was supporting the government to focus on vaccinating those at the highest risk.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters the agency needed more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for intensive care units for a comprehensive assessment.

State media said local governments were trying to tackle drug shortages, while pharmaceutical companies were working over-time to boost supplies.

China has nine domestically developed Covid vaccines approved for use. 

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