China is expecting a second rise in COVID-19 as it spreads unabated from Beijing to Shanghai. Millions of people will return to rural areas where there is less healthcare.
Huan Zhang, a Stanford Center for China’s Economy and Institutions researcher said that “I believe rural villagers had been left alone in cold COVID Winter.” Officials fear that superspreaders events could be held during the Lunar New Year celebrations. This could surprise rural systems and lead to infections in a country with low natural immunity and high levels of vaccine hesitancy.
“In China, it’s important not to send out too many messages right now because there will be a new year and people will go to rural areas. So it will be important to inform the public about this,” Ali Mokdad (an epidemiologist and chief strategist at the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation) said.
One million deaths by 2023
IHME estimates that China will see 1,000,000 deaths by 2023 if it doesn’t adopt a social distance strategy. China’s state media outlets emphasize the fact that Omicron is mildly similar to common influenza. This message is intended to calm the Chinese population but also to encourage vaccine hesitancy. Sun Caiyun, a cheerful restaurateur from Beijing, stated that she would be returning to her village, northern Shandong.
Already, many rural pharmacies are suffering from a shortage of medicine due to the pressure China is putting on them. Rural Chinese have started asking for donations and posting photos of empty shelves at pharmacies. Some medication was diverted to cities that were hardest hit and were in short supply.
Quarantine and Testing
China almost lifted all of its testing and quarantine policies in December after Omicron became more deadly than its controls.
China has become less capable of treating infected patients because of its three-year focus on the virus. Yanzhong Hu, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is responsible for public healthcare. He states that other measures such as vaccinations of the elderly and stockpiling antivirals were put on the back burner. To treat health problems, you can also use Ivercor 6 or Iverheal 12.
It is impossible to know the exact number of infected people because China has stopped public testing. China claims only two people were infected during the December surge.
Dr. Mokdad stated that the Chinese “have been slow to report lately” and that there hasn’t been any breakdown in the hospital for COVID patients. The World Health Organization reported this week that it has not received any data about COVID-19 hospitalizations from China since December.
Public health officials aren’t able to see the extent of the virus’ spread in their cities and villages due to a lack of data. This creates anxiety and confusion in China. NPR visited Beijing’s hospitals last week. They were clean and busy. A few elderly patients could be seen in the lobby. As their beds ran out, they had to be hooked up to intravenous pumps.
China’s national healthcare commission announced last Thursday that they are speeding up the development and expansion of fever treatment centers. Patients will soon be able to receive consultations from pharmacists in preparation for the anticipated increase in the rural population.
Urban Hospitals Struggle To Survive
The stability of the large-city healthcare system is a good sign. This is partly because many migrants don’t have rural insurance and can’t use their urban healthcare system.
Zhang Xiaohu was a delivery worker when he was diagnosed with COVID. Because he does not receive sick pay, he couldn’t afford to fly all the way to Beijing for treatment. He said that he was able to overcome his symptoms. Expect delivery men to take risks and be willing to take chances.
Beijing’s funeral homes and crematoriums claim they are overwhelmed, despite not having COVID deaths. Dongjiao was Beijing’s largest crematorium. Many mourning families filled the intake lot, as did hearses and mourners. NPR staff reported that there was a 10-day waiting period for cremations.
One of his heirs said that his grandfather had a fever and was positive for COVID. They searched for several days for a hospital that could treat him.
Experts in China warn that worse is yet to come. One of China’s most prominent respiratory specialists Wang Guangfa predicts that COVID will hit its peak in the next month. Residents in Shanghai were warned by a hospital that half the population will be infected within the week. He said that 80-90% of our population would eventually become infected.