Chinese hospitals and mortuaries have reportedly been filled with Covid-19 patients and dead bodies of people who died of the pandemic as the virus spread unchecked.
Reuters reports that on Wednesday, hospitals and funeral homes were under extreme pressure as the surge wave drained resources, while the scale of the outbreak and doubts over official data have prompted some countries to consider new travel rules on Chinese visitors.
Recall that the Chinese government in December had, in an abrupt change of policy, begun dismantling the world’s strictest COVID-19 regime of lockdowns and extensive testing, putting its battered economy on course for a complete re-opening next year.
Some international health experts noted that the lifting of restrictions, which came after widespread protests against them, means COVID-19 is spreading largely unchecked and likely infecting millions of people a day.
It was noted that the speed at which China, which remains the last major country in the world moving towards treating the virus as endemic, scrapped COVID rules has left the country’s fragile health system overwhelmed.
Reuters reports that China reported three new COVID-19-related deaths on Tuesday, up from one reported on Monday but the numbers are said to be inconsistent with what funeral homes are reporting, as well as with the experience of much less populous countries after they re-opened.
Staff at a big hospital in the southwestern city of Chengdu, Huaxi, was quoted as saying that they were “extremely busy” with COVID-19 patients; while one ambulance driver outside the hospital who declined to be identified said, “I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and this is the busiest I have ever known it.”
There were long queues inside and outside the hospital’s emergency department and at an adjacent fever clinic on Tuesday evening. Most of those arriving in ambulances were given oxygen to help with their breathing.
One emergency department pharmacy staff member said that “Almost all of the patients have COVID,” adding that the hospital has no stocks of COVID-specific medicine and can only provide drugs for symptoms such as coughing.
It was also discovered that car parks around the Dongjiao funeral home, one of the biggest in Chengdu, were full. Funeral processions were constant as smoke billowed from the crematorium.
One funeral worker said, “We have to do this about 200 times a day now,” adding that “We are so busy we don’t even have time to eat. This has been the case since the opening up. Before it was around 30-50 a day.”
Another worker said that “Many have died from COVID.”
Also, at another Chengdu crematorium, privately-owned Nanling, staff were equally busy.
One worker said that “There have been so many deaths from COVID lately,” adding that “Cremation slots are all fully booked. You can’t get one until the new year.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese government has reportedly said that it only counts deaths of COVID-19 patients caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure as COVID-related.
An official at the Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, Zhang Yuhua, said most recent patients were elderly and critically ill with underlying diseases. She said the number of patients receiving emergency care had increased to 450-550 per day, from about 100 before, according to state media.
The China-Japan Friendship Hospital’s fever clinic in Beijing was also “packed” with elderly patients, state media reported.
Nurses and doctors have been asked to work while sick and retired medical workers in rural communities have been rehired to help. Some cities have been struggling with drug shortages.
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