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COVID cases soar in China, ‘impossible’ to track

Chinese health authorities, who say the spread of COVID-19 is now “impossible” to track, have stopped recording asymptomatic cases in their daily tallies, amid soaring presentations to hospitals and clinics as the virus spreads after the sudden removal of strict pandemic measures.

Authorities have urged people not to seek emergency healthcare unless necessary, and announced the roll-out of second boosters to elderly and vulnerable people, reports The Guardian.

The Chinese Government abruptly ended the long-running and strict zero-COVID policy last week, including travel restrictions and lockdowns. They also ended the mass testing drives and compulsory regular testing. As a result, official daily reports have become an increasingly inaccurate measure of the outbreak.

On Tuesday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said it would no longer report asymptomatic cases, which for most of the pandemic have been reported as a separate – and usually much larger – cohort.

“Many asymptomatic patients no longer participate in nucleic acid testing,” the NHC said. “It is impossible to accurately grasp the actual number of asymptomatic infections.”

The commission officially reported just 2 291 symptomatic cases across China on Tuesday, at odds with residents and health services’ reports of rampant infections, particularly in the capital Beijing.

Vice-premier Sun Chunlan earlier said Beijing’s new infections were “rapidly growing”, according to state media.

Official state media outlet China Daily reported Beijing had seen a more than six-fold increase in presentations to hospitals in the past week, and 16 times more to fever clinics.

Li Ang, deputy director of Beijing Municipal Health Commission, told media that on 9 December there were 31 000 calls to emergency medical services, six times more than average.

Anecdotally, residents are describing many friends, families, and co-workers falling ill with COVID, with one telling The Guardian it had “ripped through” the city.

Employees at businesses, schools and embassies have described huge numbers of colleagues being home sick with the virus, or caring for family, and there are growing reports of an immediate impact on businesses.

Residents have also complained of long lines at pharmacies, and cold medication selling out. Agence France-Presse reported a black market had emerged for rapid tests and some medications being sold at inflated prices by “dealers” whose contacts are being shared on social media groups.

Online healthcare platform 111.inc had begun selling Pfizer’s oral treatment, Paxlovid, on the retail market, after it was previously only available through hospitals. But it sold out within half an hour of it being reported by media, according to Reuters.

It wasn’t clear how many boxes – priced at more than $400 each – were sold, or when they would be restocked, but Pfizer told Reuters it was “actively collaborating with all stakeholders to secure an adequate supply of Paxlovid in China”.

For almost three years China’s Government used mass testing, lockdowns, strict quarantine and travel restrictions in response to any outbreak. The policy successfully kept the virus at bay for more than two years, and was stridently defended by officials as the best response, even as it was challenged by the more transmissible variants.

But frequent and sudden lockdowns and travel bans began to grate with the population, and last month protests erupted after a series of fatal tragedies which people linked to enforcement of zero-COVID.

Last week the government suddenly announced the end of most restrictions, immediately pivoting the official messaging about COVID from it being something to fear and avoid at all costs, to a mild illness, with which the community could live.

Earlier this week China’s top health expert said their modelling suggested the wave would peak within a month, and life in China would return to a pre-2020 level of normality by mid next year.

But there are concerns that the swift reopening could see China’s health system overwhelmed in the short term. Health resources are inequitably spread, and nationally there are far fewer intensive care beds a head of population that other nearby countries. China also has an ageing population, with older demographics significantly undervaccinated.

On Wednesday the NHC said would roll out a second booster shot for high risk groups and people over 60.


The Guardian article – China says spread of Covid ‘impossible’ to track as infections soar in Beijing (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


WHO chief: China’s zero-COVID policy is ‘not sustainable’


Omicron spike puts China’s ‘zero-COVID’ policies under pressure


China: Millions in lockdown as new cases hit two-year high, testing its ‘zero COVID’ resolve


COVID restrictions loosen after countrywide protests in China


China slackens COVID restrictions for travellers






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