China: WHO warns hospitals are filling up amid Covid surge fears

A Covid-19 patient on a stretcher in the emergency ward of the First Affiliated Hospital, Chongqing (Picture: AFP)

Hospitals in China are filling up with Covid-19 patients – and fast – as fears of a tsunami of cases rise, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

WHO emergencies chief Dr Michael Ryan said yesterday that intensive care units (ICU) are becoming increasingly busy even as official cases drop by 93%.

Under China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy, mass mandatory testing, lockdowns and quarantines have been the norm for years.

But Beijing dramatically loosened its zero-tolerance approach to the virus two weeks ago as officials insist the ‘last stage’ of the pandemic is upon them.

Dr Ryan said: ‘In China, what’s been reported is relatively low numbers of cases in ICUs, but anecdotally ICUs are filling up.

‘I wouldn’t like to say that China is actively not telling us what’s going on. I think they’re behind the curve.’

Covid-19 cases are on the up since China loosened its once airtight zero Covid policy (Picture: AFP)
WHO officials are increasingly worried about the situation in China (Picture: AFP)

An average of 2,244 cases per day was reported last week – compared to around 30,000 before changing course, per the New York Times Covid-19 tracker.

Deaths have increased by 250%, according to the American newspaper. But official Chinese government figures put the death count at five people on Tuesday and two the day before.

The figures are likely even higher, however, as the government dropped mass testing requirements and made reporting at-home test results voluntary.

Reuters reported about 40 hearses were spotted queued outside a crematorium in Beijing’s Tongzhou district on Wednesday.

Inside, people were seen wearing traditional white clothing – the colour of mourning in China – gathered around at least 20 coffins. Their causes of death have not been verified.

The WHO said it was ready to work with Beijing to improve how the nation collects Covid-19 hospitalisation numbers.

This picture shows a Covid-19 patient on a stretcher in the emergency ward of the First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University in China's southwestern city of Chongqing on December 22, 2022. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP) (Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

ICUs are becoming increasingly rammed, a senior WHO official has warned (Picture: AFP)
China has said that the ‘end’ of the pandemic is in sight for the nation (Picture: AFP)

Speaking at a weekly news conference in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he is ‘very concerned over the evolving situation in China’.

‘Vaccination is the exit strategy,’ Dr Ryan added.

China’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm vaccines are inactivated vaccines, which use killed SARS-CoV-2 virus – though experts say this type of shot is less effective.

German authorities said Wednesday it has shipped over the first batch of BioNTech vaccines – the first foreign shot delivered to China.

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