BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) Cities across China have been scrambling to build hospitals and construct fever-screening clinics on Tuesday after authorities announced five deaths, and global concerns grew about Beijing’s surprising decision to allow the virus to run wild.
China this month began to dismantle its strict “zero-COVID” policy of tests and lockdowns after protests against curbs that stopped the spread of the virus for three years but came at an enormous cost to the people of China and to the world’s second-largest economy.
As the virus spreads across the nation comprised of 1.4 billion people, who have no natural immunity, despite being protected for many years there is increasing worry about the possibility of deaths as well as virus mutations, and the effects on trade and economy.
“Every new outbreak in a different country carries the possibility of new variants which is greater the larger the outbreak. The current outbreak in China is likely to be huge,” said Alex Cook Vice-dean of studies at Singapore’s National University’s Saw Hock School of Public Health.
“However in the end, China will have to experience an extensive COVID-19 outbreak to be able to attain an end-to-end state with no restrictions and the political and economic destruction that follows.”
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday that the potential for the virus to change as it spreads across China was “a risk for everyone”.
Beijing announced five COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, two of which occurred on Monday. These were the first fatalities to be reported in the past few weeks. All in all, China has reported just 5,242 deaths from COVID since the outbreak began in the city of Wuhan in the latter part of 2019, an extremely low number in comparison to international standards.
However, there is a growing doubt that the figures are a reflection of the full impact of the epidemic that has swept through cities since China removed curbs, including the majority of required tests at the end of December. 7.
Since the time, certain hospitals have been overwhelmed, pharmacies have been emptied of medications as well as a large number of patients have been forced to lock themselves in and have been straining delivery services.
“It’s somewhat of a hassle to suddenly open again when the supply of medication was not properly ready,” said Zhang, an delivery worker aged 31 in Beijing who would not reveal his complete name. “But I’m for the decision to reopen.”
According to some health experts, that 60% of people living in China which is roughly 10 percent of the global population – might be susceptible to contracting the disease in the next months, and more than 2 million individuals could be killed.
In Beijing, the capital city Beijing security guards guarded the entryway to a designated COVID-19 crematorium , where Reuters journalists on Saturday spotted the long line of hearses, and staff wearing hazmat suits carried the deceased inside. Reuters was unable to determine the cause of death to COVID.
In Beijing where it has emerged as the most infected area, commuters, with many who were coughing in their masks were back on trains to work and the streets were reviving after being mostly deserted the previous week.
Streets in Shanghai which is in which COVID transmitting rates are now catching up to Beijing’s more crowded, and subway trains were barely half full.
“People are staying home because they’re sick or afraid of becoming sick, but most of the time I believe it’s because they’re in a state of sickness,” said Yang, the trainer at an almost unoccupied Shanghai gym.
The top health officials have toned down their rhetoric regarding the dangers that the disease poses over the past few weeks. making a shift from the previous message that the virus needed to be eradicated in order to protect lives as the world’s population has opened to the possibility of spreading.
They’ve also played on the chance that their dominant Omicron strain could get more dangerous.
“The possibility of an unexpectedly large alteration … will be extremely small,” Zhang Wenhong, an acknowledged specialist in infectious diseases at a forum, said on Sunday in comments cited in state media.
Yet, there are growing indications that the virus is spreading throughout the fragile health system of China.
Cities are intensifying efforts to build the number of intensive care units and to construct fever clinics, facilities that are designed to limit the spread of infectious diseases in hospitals.
This week, cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Wenzhou declared that they have constructed hundreds of fever centers. Some are within converted sports facilities.
This virus has also been hurting China’s economy. It is predicted to grow by at 3% in the coming year, which is the worst performance in almost 50 years. Truck drivers and workers who are sick are slowing production while disrupting transportation, according to economists.
An World Economics survey showed on Monday that the confidence of Chinese business owners fell in December, to the lowest level since January 2013.
A slowdown in industrial production in the world’s leading oil importer has limited the gains in crude prices and pushed copper prices lower.
China held benchmark lending rates the same for the fourth straight month on Tuesday.
(Reporting from Bernard Orr and Xiaoyu Yin in Beijing, Xinghui Kok in Singapore, David Stanway and Casey Hall in Shanghai and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Washington; writing of John Geddie and Marius Zaharia editing by Robert Birsel)