Beijing, in the midst of its largest wave of infections since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, is experiencing two parallel realities. On the one hand, the situation in hospitals is serious, as feared, and it is the reason why the authorities assure that they extended the iron application of the zero covid policy as long as they could. But, on the other, since the weekend, the Chinese capital is leaving prints of shopping centers and restaurants packed with families who have already passed the disease and who, once recovered, take to the streets to see the Christmas lights, to buy gifts or indulge in hobbies like ice skating. This dichotomy that can be seen in the capital city is not very far from what happens in the main cities of the country. The Government’s greatest concern, however, is focused on rural areas, which are already preparing for an imminent blow of infections due to the massive displacements for the Lunar New Year holidays.
The concern also extends to other countries, especially the neighbors. Since China announced the elimination of quarantines for travelers coming from abroad and the renewal of the passports of its nationals so that they can go abroad, several States have imposed or are considering applying restrictions, partly due to the lack of transparency with the who consider that Beijing handles the data of the pandemic. Japan, Taiwan and India will require a negative PCR for people coming from China. Meanwhile, official US sources cited by the Reuters agency have expressed their concern and have opened the door to the adoption of restrictions.
“The current situation does not invite optimism. I’m not going to say if there are many people dying. I don’t know if we have already passed the peak of deaths or when we will pass it. The only thing I can share is that the situation is worse than what is believed and that many people are dying. I will not say anything else ”, settles Dr. Jia through a WeChat message. Jia works in the ER in a Beijing hospital that she, she assures her, is overwhelmed. “We have many patients, many of them with other underlying diseases, who are in serious condition. Currently medical resources are insufficient, we do not have as many medicines and equipment as we expected. We are very tired. We hardly have breaks because there is a huge staff shortage at the moment. We come to work being sick, but even so, we don’t break down, ”she describes.
In a post she shared on her WeChat Moments (similar to Facebook Wall) Tuesday night, this doctor advises her contacts with elderly or other ill relatives to protect their relatives: “The reality is that, for see a doctor, you have to wait at least four hours in the ER, and maybe even a whole day for them to rehydrate you. But, even if they succeed, the patient may not receive the most appropriate treatment for his disease, because, even if they want to prescribe it, there are no drugs. Although I want to do a thorough medical examination and put on a ventilator, I can’t, because there aren’t enough doctors and nurses. So please take care of yourselves, ”she begs in her writing.
The most dangerous weeks in China
Western epidemiologists warn that China is facing the most dangerous weeks since the outbreak of the health crisis in early 2020. On December 7, the Asian giant gave an unexpected and abrupt turnaround in its fight against covid, accelerated by a wave of protests between different sectors of the population demanding a relaxation of the iron protocols that for almost three years have dictated the lives of its 1,400 million inhabitants. The change, which has occurred when the country was already facing its biggest outbreak of infections and in the dead of winter, has caused a tsunami of infections that is putting its health system on the ropes.
On Sunday, officials in Zhejiang province, home to 65 million people, announced that the number of daily cases exceeded 1 million, while those in the port city of Qingdao, of 10 million, estimated that around 500,000 people were getting sick. infecting every day. The data contrasts enormously with the official version of the National Health Commission, which on that Sunday published only 4,103 new cases throughout the country, before announcing that, in the future, it would stop reporting daily figures related to covid-19. .
Despite the fact that the end of the restrictions was accompanied by a 180 degree turn in the official narrative regarding the severity of the disease, the state media are also calling for people to stay at home to avoid saturation of hospitals. The celebration of the Lunar New Year between January 21 and 27 is a cause of concern for Chinese epidemiologists, who warn that the next two waves of infections will occur due to massive displacements during the holidays. While the current wave is mainly affecting large cities, the others will reach rural areas, where health systems are very poor.
The actual death toll
“We are going through the toughest moment in my 30-year career,” says Zhu Huadong, director of the Emergency Department at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, in a report broadcast by the Chinese international network CGTN. “More than 75% of patients are in serious condition, it is an unprecedented challenge,” he adds. EL PAIS has been able to verify this Wednesday that at the Chaoyang Hospital (Beijing) it is impossible to get an appointment in Pulmonology until the second week of January. At the fever clinic, located in an adjoining building, there were lines of patients waiting to be seen. As can be seen in the photographs published by the nationalist newspaper china dailythe intensive care unit of that same hospital is full of patients, mostly elderly, some of whom are breathing through ventilators.
In the state media, however, there is no sign of an increase in the number of deaths, as health personnel and funeral homes have confirmed to this newspaper in recent weeks. Officially, China has only registered 5,245 deaths from covid since the start of the pandemic, and barely a dozen since the reopening. The health authorities excuse themselves that the new methodology to count deaths is only to recognize those deaths whose primary cause is pneumonia or respiratory failure, an approach different from that applied in the rest of the world and that has received criticism from experts. In contrast, the British health data analysis organization Airfinity estimated last week that around 5,000 people are dying every day and that the total number of deaths could rise to between 1.3 and 2.1 million this winter.