Chinese hospitals, funeral homes ‘extremely busy’ as COVID spreads unchecked

  • Hospitals and funeral parlors are reporting an increase in the number of Covid-19 patients
  • China reported three new Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday
  • Some countries consider travel rules for Chinese visitors

CHENGDU, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Chinese hospitals and funeral homes were under severe pressure on Wednesday due to a surging COVID-19 wave, while the scale of the outbreak and doubts about official data prompted some countries to consider new travel rules in China. The visitors

In a sudden shift in policy, China this month began dismantling the world’s strictest COVID regime of lockdowns and extensive testing, putting the battered economy on course for a full reopening next year.

According to some international health experts, the lifting of restrictions, which came after widespread protests against them, means that COVID is spreading largely unchecked and infecting millions of people a day.

China, the last major country in the world to move towards treating the virus locally, has seen the speed with which it repeals Covid laws cripple its fragile health system.

China reported three new COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, up from one on Monday — numbers inconsistent with funeral parlors reporting, as well as the experience of countries with fewer populations since reopening.

Staff at Huaxi, a large hospital in the southwestern city of Chengdu, said they were extremely busy with COVID patients.

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“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and this is the busiest I’ve ever been,” said an ambulance driver outside the hospital, who declined to be identified.

There were long queues inside and outside the hospital’s emergency department and the adjacent fever clinic on Tuesday evening. Most of those who arrived in ambulances were given oxygen to breathe.

“Almost every patient has COVID,” said an emergency department pharmacy staff member.

She said the hospital does not have stocks of Covid-specific drugs and can only administer drugs for symptoms such as cough.

The car parks around Dongjiao Funeral Home, Chengdu’s largest funeral home, were packed. Funerals were regular as smoke rose from the crematorium.

“Now we have to do it 200 times a day,” said one funeral worker. “We are so busy that we don’t even have time to eat. This has been the case since opening. Earlier it was 30-50 a day.

“Many have died of covid,” said another worker.

At another Chengdu cemetery, privately owned Nanling, staff were equally busy.

“Recently there have been many deaths due to covid,” said a worker. “Funeral slots are fully booked. You won’t get one until the new year.

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China has said that deaths of covid patients due to pneumonia and respiratory failure are only considered covid-related.

Zhang Yuhua, an official at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, said the latest patients were elderly and those with serious illnesses. They said the number of patients receiving emergency care had risen to 450-550 per day, from 100 previously, state media reported.

The China-Japan Friendship Hospital’s fever clinic in Beijing was also overwhelmed with elderly patients, state media reported.

Nurses and doctors have been asked to work while being redeployed to help sick and retired medical workers in rural communities. Some cities are struggling with drug shortages.

Travel rules

In a major step toward free travel, China will stop requiring inbound travelers to go into quarantine starting Jan. 8, officials said this week.

Hong Kong, the global financial hub, said on Wednesday it would lift most of its last remaining COVID restrictions.

Online searches for flights from China rebounded from record lows on Tuesday, but residents and travel agencies suggested it would take several months to return to anything like normal now that caution is in place.

Moreover, some governments were considering additional travel requirements for Chinese visitors.

US officials cited a “lack of transparent data” as the reason for doing so.

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India, Taiwan and Japan require travelers from China to test negative for Covid-19, and those who test positive in Japan must spend a week in quarantine. Tokyo also plans to limit airlines that increase flights to China.

The Philippines also considered conducting trials.

Financial pain

China’s $17 trillion economy is expected to experience a slowdown in factory output and household consumption as workers and shoppers fall ill.

News of the reopening of borders lifted global luxury stocks, but the reaction in other corners of the market was more muted.

U.S. carmaker Tesla ( TSLA.O ) plans to reduce the production schedule at its Shanghai plant in January, according to an internal schedule reviewed by Reuters. The reason for this is not specified.

Once the initial shock of new infections wears off, some economists expect China’s growth to rebound with a vengeance this year from what they expect to be the lowest rate in half a century, somewhere around 3%.

Morgan Stanley economists expect growth of 5.4% in 2023, while those at Goldman Sachs expect 5.2%.

Reporting by Martin Qin Pollard in Chengdu, Chen Lin in Singapore, and the Shanghai and Beijing bureaus; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Fest and Christian Schmollinger

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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