Shanghai hospital warns of ‘tragic battle’ as COVID spreads
By Zoey Zhang and Bernard Orr
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – A Shanghai hospital has told its staff to prepare for a “tragic battle” against COVID-19 as it expects half of the city’s 25 million people to be infected by the end of the year. next week, as 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 heavy financial and psychological toll on its 1.4 billion people.
The official death count in China since the pandemic began three years ago stands at 5,241, a fraction of what most other countries faced, but now looks set to rise sharply.
China reported no new COVID deaths for a second straight day on Wednesday, even as funeral home workers say demand for their services has risen sharply over the past week.
Authorities, who have lowered the criteria for COVID deaths, drawing criticism from many disease experts, confirmed 389,306 cases with symptoms.
Some experts say official case numbers have become an unreliable guide as fewer tests are being done after restrictions are eased.
Infections in China are likely to top 1 million a day with more than 5,000 deaths a day, a “stark contrast” to official data, British health data firm Airfinity said this week.
Airfinity said it examined data from China’s regional provinces and noted that cases are rising fastest in the capital Beijing and the southern province of Guangdong.
Shanghai Deji Hospital, posting on its WeChat account on Wednesday night, estimated that there were around 5.43 million positives in the city and 12.5 million in China’s main shopping mall will be infected by the end of the year. .
“Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day and Lunar New Year this year are bound to be unsafe,” said the private hospital, which employs about 400 people.
“In this tragic battle, the entire Greater Shanghai will fall and we will infect the entire hospital staff! We will infect the entire family! All our patients will be infected! We have no choice and we cannot escape.”
The post was no longer available on WeChat as of Thursday afternoon. A person who answered the hospital’s main phone line said she could not immediately comment on the article.
Shanghai residents endured a two-month lockdown that ended June 1, with many losing income and struggling to find basic necessities. Hundreds died and hundreds of thousands became infected during those two months.
On Thursday, many areas of Shanghai were almost as deserted as then, with many residents isolating and businesses forced to close as staff fell ill.
“All of our employees are sick,” said a supermarket worker surnamed Wang as he closed the doors. He said that he hoped to reopen on December 30.
Despite the new infections, the last vestiges of the “COVID Zero” policy are being scrapped. China plans to ease quarantine requirements for foreign travelers in January, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Experts say China could face more than a million COVID deaths next year, given relatively low full vaccination rates among its vulnerable elderly population.
China’s vaccination rate is over 90%, but the rate for adults receiving booster shots drops to 57.9% and 42.3% for people aged 80 and over, government data shows.
Footage from a Beijing hospital on state television CCTV 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 that they were receiving 400 patients a day, four times more than usual.
“These patients are all elderly who have underlying diseases, fever and respiratory infection, and are in a very serious condition,” Han said.
The head of the World Health Organization said he was concerned about rising infections and was supporting the government to focus on vaccinating those most at risk.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters the agency needed more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and intensive care unit requirements to conduct a comprehensive assessment.
China’s U-turn policy caught a fragile health system off guard, with hospitals fighting for beds and blood, pharmacies for medicines and authorities competing to build clinics.
Smaller cities far from the prosperous coastal belt are particularly vulnerable. Tongchuan, a city of 700,000 in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, on Wednesday called on all medical workers who have retired in the past five years to join the fight against COVID.
State media said local governments were trying to address drug shortages while pharmaceutical companies worked overtime to boost supplies.
Germany said it has sent its first batch of BioNTech COVID vaccines to China to initially administer to German expatriates. Berlin is pushing for other foreign citizens to take them.
BioNTech said on Thursday that it had shipped 11,500 doses of the vaccine to China.
These would be the first mRNA vaccines, considered the most efficient against the disease, available in China.
The German embassy in Beijing has asked its citizens to register to receive the vaccine, which should soon be available at its diplomatic representations. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said both sides were discussing how to organize the distribution of the vaccine to the Germans.
China has nine domestically developed COVID vaccines approved for use.
(Reporting by Bernard Orr, Martin Pollard and Ella Cao in Beijing, Zoey Zhang and Casey Hall in Shanghai; Writing by Marius Zaharia and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Jacqueline Wong and Toby Chopra)