Beijing will start distributing Paxlovid, Pfizer’s covid-19 drug to the city’s community health centers in the coming days, state media reported Monday.
The report comes as the city grapples with an unprecedented wave of infections that has severely affected their hospitals and emptied the shelves of pharmacies.
The state-run China News Service reported on Monday that after receiving training, community doctors will administer the drug to Covid-19 patients and give instructions on how to use it.
“We received the notice from the officials, but it is not clear when the medicines will arrive,” said a worker at a local community health center in Beijing’s Xicheng district.
Paxlovid remains the only foreign drug to treat covid that has been approved by China’s regulator for domestic use, but access is extremely difficult to come by. When a Chinese healthcare platform offered the antiviral drug earlier this month, it sold out within hours.
Azvudine, an oral drug developed by China’s Genuine Biotech, has also been approved.
After nearly three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing, China abruptly abandoned its zero-Covid policy this month following nationwide protests over its high economic and social cost.
The abrupt change in policy has led to panic buying of fever and cold medicines, leading to widespread shortages, both in pharmacies and online shopping platforms. Long lines have become routine in front of fever clinics and overflowing hospital wards in the capital Beijing and other parts of the country.
On Monday, Chinese state media CCTV quoted President Xi Jinping saying the country needed a more targeted health strategy to protect people’s lives as the Covid situation in China changes.
“Xi Jinping stressed that our country is currently facing a new covid outbreak situation and new responsibilities, we must carry out our patriotic health movement in a more targeted way,” the CCTV report said.
It was one of Xi’s first public statements on the Covid situation in China since the government’s decision to ease its strict restrictions.
An emergency room doctor in Beijing told the state-run People’s Daily on Thursday that four doctors on his shift had no time to eat or drink. “We have been seeing patients non-stop,” he said.
Another emergency room doctor told the newspaper that he had been working despite developing symptoms of a fever. “The number of patients is high, and with less medical staff, the pressure is multiplied,” the doctor said.
In a sign of the pressure on Beijing’s medical system, hundreds of health professionals from across China have traveled to the city to help medical centers.
As the capital, Beijing has some of the best medical resources in the country. However, Covid’s abrupt U-turn zero has left people and healthcare facilities ill-prepared to deal with a surge in infections.
China’s official covid case count has dwindled to insignificance after it reversed mass testing and allowed residents to use antigen tests and isolate at home. It has stopped reporting asymptomatic cases, admitting that it was no longer possible to track the actual number of infections.
According to a internal estimate According to the National Health Commission, nearly 250 million people in China have contracted Covid in the first 20 days of December, representing about 18% of the country’s population.
Experts warned that as people in big cities return home for the Lunar New Year next month, the virus could spread across China’s vast rural areas, where vaccination rates are lower and medical resources are very scarce.