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China races to strengthen health system as COVID surge sparks global concern


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© Reuters. Beds in a fever clinic are set up in a sports complex as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Beijing, December 20, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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By Bernard Orr and Xinghui Kok

BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Cities across China raced to install hospital beds and build fever screening clinics on Tuesday as authorities reported five more deaths and national concern economic growth over Beijing’s sudden decision to let the virus go free.

China this month began lifting its strict “no-COVID” lockdown and testing after protests against containment measures that have contained the virus for three years but caused great damage to society. and the second largest economy in the world.

Now, as the virus sweeps across a nation of 1.4 billion people who lack natural immunity that has been protected for so long, there are growing concerns about the potential for mortality, virus mutations and impact on the economy and trade.

“Every new wave of the epidemic in another country carries the risk of new variants emerging, and this risk increases as the outbreak gets bigger and the current wave in China is forming very large,” he said. Alex Cook, associate dean of research, said. The National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

“However, China must certainly experience a large wave of COVID-19 if it is to reach epidemic status, in a future without lockdowns and economic and political damage.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday said the ability of the virus to mutate as it spreads in China is a “threat to people everywhere”.

Beijing reported five COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, following two on Monday, the first deaths reported in weeks. In total, China has only reported 5,242 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic broke out in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, a very low number by global standards.

But there is growing doubt that the statistics are reflecting the true impact of a disease raging across cities after China lifted restrictive measures, including most mandatory testing. forced on 7/12.

Since then, some hospitals have become overwhelmed, pharmacies have run out of medicines, and many people have had to self-lock, putting a strain on delivery services.

Zhang, a 31-year-old delivery worker in Beijing, said: “It is a bit of a burden to suddenly reopen when the supply of medicine is not fully prepared. “But I’m in favor of reopening.”

Some health experts estimate that 60% of the people of China – or 10% of the world’s population – could be infected in the coming months and more than 2 million people could die.

In the capital Beijing, security guards patrolled the entrance of a designated COVID-19 crematorium, where Reuters journalists on Saturday saw a long line of hearses and workers in suits guard carrying the dead inside. Reuters was unable to determine whether the deaths were due to COVID.

‘SICK’

In Beijing, which has emerged as a major infection hotspot, commuters, many of whom coughed into face masks, returned to the train to get to work and the streets returned to life after being mostly deserted this week. before.

Streets in Shanghai, where the rate of COVID transmission is catching up with Beijing, are emptier and subway trains are only half full.

“People stay away because they’re sick or afraid of getting sick, but most of the time, I think it’s because they’re really sick,” said Yang, a trainer at a nearly empty gym in Shanghai. Hai, said.

Top health officials have softened their tone on the threat posed by the disease in recent weeks, a turnaround from the previous message that the virus must be eradicated to save lives even if part The rest of the world is open.

They also downplayed the possibility that the now dominant strain of Omicron could become more virulent.

Zhang Wenhong, a prominent infectious disease expert, said at a forum on Sunday in comments reported by state media: “The probability of a sudden large spike… is very low.

However, there are growing signs that the virus is hitting China’s fragile health system.

Cities are stepping up efforts to expand intensive care units and build fever clinics, facilities designed to prevent the wider spread of infectious disease in hospitals.

Over the past week, major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Wenzhou announced they have added hundreds of fever clinics, some of which have converted sports facilities.

The virus is also hampering China’s economy, which is expected to grow 3% this year, its worst performance in nearly half a century. Sick workers and truck drivers are slowing output and disrupting logistics, economists say.

A World Economic Survey on Monday showed that China’s business confidence fell in December to its lowest level since January 2013.

Weaker industrial activity in the world’s top oil importer capped the upside in crude prices and sent oil prices lower.

China left its benchmark lending rate unchanged for a fourth straight month on Tuesday.



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