- Hospitals, funeral homes report surge in COVID infections
- U.S. joins countries in requiring testing of Chinese arrivals
CHENGDU, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Chinese hospitals and funeral homes were under intense pressure on Wednesday as a surge in the COVID-19 wave drained resources, while the scale of the outbreak and doubts about official figures prompted some countries to enact new restrictions on the Chinese population. Travel Rules Visitors.
China’s abrupt policy change, which this month began lifting the world’s strictest COVID lockdown and widespread testing regime, puts its battered economy on track to fully reopen next year.
Some international health experts say the lifting of restrictions after widespread protests against them means the spread of COVID is largely unchecked and could infect millions of people every day.
Late Wednesday, the United States became the fifth country, after India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan, to say it would require COVID testing for travelers from China.
The speed at which China rolled back COVID rules, the last major country in the world to treat the virus as endemic, has overwhelmed its fragile health system.
China’s overall vaccination rate is more than 90%, but that rate has fallen to 57.9% for adults who have received a booster shot and to 42.3% for people aged 80 and over, according to government data last week. The country has nine domestically developed COVID vaccines licensed for use, but none have been updated for the highly contagious Omicron variant.
China reported three new COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, up from one on Monday — a figure that is at odds with reports from funeral homes and with what less-populous countries have experienced as they reopen.
China said it only counted COVID-related deaths of COVID patients from pneumonia and respiratory failure.
Staff at West China Hospital, a major hospital in the southwestern city of Chengdu, said they were “very busy” taking in COVID patients.
“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and it’s the busiest I’ve ever known,” said one ambulance driver, who asked not to be named.
On Tuesday night, queues formed both inside and outside the hospital’s emergency room and at nearby fever clinics. Most of those who arrived by ambulance were given oxygen to help them breathe.
“Nearly all of the patients had COVID-19,” said an emergency room pharmacy worker.
She said the hospital did not have a stock of COVID-specific medicines and could only provide medicines for symptoms such as coughs.
The parking lot around Dongjiao Funeral Home, one of the largest funeral homes in Chengdu, is full. Thick smoke billowed from the crematorium, and the funeral procession continued.
“We now have to do this about 200 times a day,” said one funeral home worker. “We are so busy that we don’t even have time to eat. It has been like this since it opened, and it used to be around 30-50 a day.”
“Many people died from COVID,” said another worker.
At Nanling Crematorium, another private crematorium in Chengdu, the staff were equally busy.
“So many people have died from COVID recently,” one worker said. “The cremation seats are fully booked, and we won’t be able to get them until the Chinese New Year.”
Zhang Yuhua, head of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, said that most of the recent patients are elderly critically ill patients with underlying diseases. She said the number of patients receiving emergency care had risen to 450-550 a day, from about 100 previously, according to state media.
The fever clinic at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing was also “crowded” with elderly patients, state media reported.
Nurses and doctors were called to work, while sick and retired medical staff in rural communities were brought back in to help. Some cities have been battling drug shortages.
China will no longer require incoming travelers to quarantine from Jan. 8, authorities said this week, an important step toward freer travel.
Global financial center Hong Kong also said on Wednesday it would lift most of the last remaining COVID restrictions.
Online searches for flights from China surged from extremely low levels on Tuesday, but residents and travel agents say it will be months before normal levels return.
Some governments began imposing additional travel requirements on Chinese tourists, which U.S. officials cited a “lack of transparent data” as a reason for doing so.
Starting Jan. 5, all air travelers aged 2 and over will be required to test negative no more than two days before leaving China, Hong Kong or Macau, U.S. officials told reporters.
Passengers who tested positive more than 10 days before their flight could provide a recovery document in lieu of a negative test result, officials said.
Italy, the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus after it emerged in China in February 2020, also introduced mandatory testing.
India, Taiwan and Japan will require negative COVID tests for travelers from mainland China, and those who test positive in Japan will have to quarantine for a week. Tokyo also plans to restrict airlines from increasing flights to China.
Factory output and domestic consumption in China’s $17 trillion economy are expected to slow as workers and shoppers fall ill.
Once the initial shock of new infections has passed, economists at Morgan Stanley see growth of 5.4% in 2023, while economists at Goldman Sachs expect growth of 5.2%.
Reporting by Marting Quin Pollard in Chengdu, Chen Lin in Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia and Howard Goller; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Rosalba O’Brien
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