Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters
Chinese doctors and nurses are being told to continue working even when infected with Covid-19, staff and residents have reported, as the virus spreads through the population following the easing of restrictions.
Related: China says Covid spread ‘impossible’ to track as infections soar in Beijing
Some hospitals in Beijing have up to 80% of their staff infected, but many still have to work due to staff shortages, a doctor at a major public hospital in Beijing told Reuters, adding that he had spoken to his peers about other major hospitals in the capital.
All operations and surgeries had been canceled at his hospital unless the patient “dies tomorrow”, he said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
A senior World Health Organization official said on Wednesday China’s surge started ‘long before’ restrictions were lifted, but since the sudden change in policy, major cities in Beijing appear to have seen a huge surge cases of Covid-19. Authorities said it was “impossible” to measure because most people are not tested.
“The explosion of cases in China had started long before any relaxation of the zero-Covid policy,” WHO emergency chief Michael Ryan said on Wednesday. “There is a narrative that somehow China lifted the restrictions and all of a sudden the disease is out of control,” he added at the health agency’s headquarters. of the United Nations in Geneva.
“The disease was spreading intensively because the control measures by themselves did not stop the disease.”
In Sichuan, a doctor named Li told Reuters their tertiary hospital was “overwhelmed with patients”.
“There are 700 to 800 people with fever coming every day,” Li said. “We are running out of stocks of fever and cold medicine. A few nurses at the fever clinic have tested positive, there are no special protective measures for hospital staff, and I believe many of us will soon be infected.
Allegations of rampant infections among hospital staff are also spreading on social media. A Chongqing resident said primary care in his city had “imploded”.
“80% of newly admitted patients to our small, third-level respiratory ward in a remote town test positive,” they wrote on Weibo.
“From December 8, when the first positive patient was cleared for admission, to today, December 13, at least half of the medical staff in our department have been infected. At first, infected people were allowed to go home to rest, but now as long as it is not very serious symptoms, they are not allowed to go home.
The Guardian was unable to reach senior staff at several hospitals and health authorities did not immediately respond to questions.
The outbreak is not confined to Beijing, and the sudden pivot in official policy and messaging about the dangers of the virus has alarmed and frightened some. Residents of other major cities told the Guardian they felt ‘positive cases are everywhere’.
A Chongqing resident said all the teachers at their child’s school tested positive and lessons had been moved online. In Zhengzhou, one person said many companies have switched to working from home.
A Guangzhou resident said the streets were quiet, with many people at home, but shops and restaurants were still open. “I tried to call the hospital fever hotline but no one answered the phone,” she said.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US government stands ready to help China deal with the outbreak if Beijing requests it. Kirby told reporters that China has not asked for help at this point.
“We made it clear that we are ready to help in any way they might find acceptable. It was true when the pandemic was raging, and it is true today,” he said.
The WHO has also raised concerns that China’s population of 1.4 billion is not sufficiently vaccinated.
China has said about 90% of its population is vaccinated and its National Health Commission (NHC) announced on Wednesday that it will roll out the second booster shots for high-risk groups and people over the age of 60. year.
NHC data shows that vaccinations have increased in recent days. The latest official data shows he administered 1.43 million doses on Tuesday, well above November’s rate of 100,000 to 200,000 doses a day.
Reuters contributed to this report