Chinese language provinces hard-hit by Covid are seeing a pressure on vital care, well being officers say

People wait outside a fever clinic at Tongren Hospital in Shanghai, December 23, 2022 amid a local outbreak of Covid-19 infections.

Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Some Chinese provinces’ intensive care beds and resources are nearing capacity as Covid-19 infections surge, national health authorities said on Tuesday.

“In provinces currently experiencing high demand for intensive care, they are approaching the critical threshold of available ICU beds and resources,” Jiao Yahui, director of the Department of Medical Affairs at China’s National Health Commission, said during a news conference. That’s according to a CNBC translation of the Mandarin remarks.

In such regions, Jiao said, “there is a need to expand the availability of ICU beds and resources or accelerate sales.”

Overall, Jiao claimed the national availability of ICU beds is adequate, at 12.8 per 100,000 population as of Dec. 25.

Earlier this month, mainland China abruptly ended many Covid controls. Infections have now risen sharply, putting pressure on the country’s already overburdened healthcare system.

It’s unclear to what extent Covid outbreaks have hit the country, with few official figures on recent infections and deaths. China’s National Health Commission on Sunday stopped sharing daily figures after mandatory virus testing was halted.

Some local governments have provided details on the regional situation.

Zhejiang province – on the border with Shanghai – said on Sunday daily Covid infections in the region have surpassed 1 million and are likely to double to a peak of 2 million a day around the New Year. The province has a population of approximately 65.4 million.

In the capital Beijing – one of the earliest to experience a Covid wave – the proportion of severe cases and elderly patients in fever clinics has risen, according to an official report on Saturday. It quoted a director of a local hospital as saying the percentage of visits by the elderly had increased from under 20% to almost 50%.

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China’s health authorities spoke at a briefing on Tuesday about the country’s new Covid measures, which were released late Monday. Policy changes included plans to end quarantine for inbound travelers starting Jan. 8.

“We view the new guidelines as a major step toward full reopening, but warn of increasing challenges for China’s medical system in the near future,” analysts at Goldman Sachs said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The advanced schedule for China’s reopening confirms our below-consensus forecast for Q4 GDP growth (+1.7% yoy) and above-consensus forecast for 2023 GDP growth (+5.2% mom). YoY comparison),” the analysts said.

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