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China sees surge in Covid cases as strict policy eases

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China reported 8,626 domestic infections on Monday.

Beijing:

Covid cases are rising in the Chinese capital, officials said on Monday, as the country rapidly moves away from its zero-tolerance coronavirus strategy.

Just days after China began easing restrictions, authorities in Beijing said more than 22,000 patients had visited hospitals in the city the previous day, 16 times the number a year ago. week.

“The current trend of the epidemic spreading rapidly in Beijing still exists,” city health commission spokesman Li Ang said in a Monday briefing.

“The number of fever clinic visits and flu-like cases has increased dramatically, and the number of emergency calls has increased sharply.”

China reported 8,626 household infections on Monday, but with testing no longer mandatory for much of the population, the number is thought to be much higher.

As the country takes a tricky path out of its zero Covid policy to live with the virus, many people with symptoms have opted to seek treatment at home.

Cold and fever medicines have sold out in virtually every pharmacy in Beijing, and rapid antigen tests are dwindling as people stock up in anticipation of a virus outbreak that threatens the lives of millions of unborn elderly. vaccinated.

Social media users have reported a spike in infections in smaller cities, including Baoding in Hebei province and Dazhou in Sichuan, with hospitals inundated and residents unable to buy medicine.

AFP was unable to immediately verify the allegations.

“It’s really serious, the drug supply is not enough and it is mismanaged,” one person wrote on Twitter-like platform Weibo.

Lacking adequate medical infrastructure and primary care triage, China’s rural interior is particularly vulnerable to health crises such as Covid.

– ‘End of an era’ –

In a major move towards unraveling years of tough restrictions, China announced on Monday that it would withdraw an app used to track travel to infected areas.

The state-run “communications route map” was a central part of zero-Covid, keeping tabs on the movements of millions of people through their phone signal data.

It was part of a panoply of tracking apps that ruled daily life during the pandemic. Most people still use local “health codes” run by their city or province to enter stores and offices.

Social media users hailed the removal of the software, noting the symbolism of the government shutting down its main tracking app.

“Goodbye, this heralds the end of an era, and also welcomes a brand new one,” one person wrote on Weibo.

Others asked what would happen to the mountains of data collected and hoped it would be deleted.

– “Spread quickly” –

Kendra Schaefer, technology partner at research consultancy Trivium China, said “the political victory of returning to normal is gigantic”.

But this normalcy means the country is facing a surge of cases it is ill-prepared to handle, with millions of elderly people not fully vaccinated and underfunded hospitals lacking capacity to care for large numbers of patients. .

China has one intensive care unit bed for every 10,000 people, Jiao Yahui, director of the National Health Commission’s Department of Medical Affairs, warned last week.

The official number of Covid cases has fallen sharply from a record high recorded last month, but top Chinese health expert Zhong Nanshan warned in state media on Sunday that the Omicron variant was “spreading rapidly”.

The easing of restrictions has also released pent-up domestic travel demand, with state broadcaster CCTV saying on Monday that flights from Beijing’s two main airports are expected to soon return to 70% of 2019 levels.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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