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China’s vast province is rushing to bolster defenses against COVID

China’s vast province is rushing to bolster defenses against COVID

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  • Hospitals, funeral homes overwhelmed by a COVID wave
  • Some countries impose testing rules on Chinese travelers
  • China reports one new COVID death for December 28

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Dec 29 (Reuters) – China’s sprawling and underfunded provinces are racing to shore up medical facilities before hundreds of millions of factory workers return to their families for the Lunar New Year holiday next month from cities where the COVID-19 is growing.

After imposing the world’s strictest COVID lockdown regime and relentless testing for three years, China reversed course this month on living with the virus, leaving its fragile health system overwhelmed.

The lifting of restrictions after mass protests against them means that COVID is spread largely uncontrolled and probably infects millions of people a day, according to some international health experts.

China officially reported one new death from COVID on Wednesday, down from three on Tuesday, but foreign governments and many epidemiologists believe the numbers are much higher and that more than 1 million people could die next year.

China said it only counts deaths of COVID patients caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure as COVID-related.

In the southwestern city of Chengdu, funeral parlors were busy after dark on Wednesday, with a steady stream of cars entering one that was heavily guarded by security officers.

One van driver working for the salon said the last few weeks had been particularly busy and that “huge numbers of people” had been inside.

Hospitals and funeral homes in big cities are ruined intense pressurebut the main concern about the health system’s ability to cope with rising infections is focused on the countryside.

At a pharmacy in Shanghai, Wang Cayun, 53, a cleaner in the city who comes from neighboring Anhui province, said she was buying medicine for her family at home.

“My husband, my son, my grandson, my mother are all infected,” she said. “They can’t get any medicine, nothing for fever or cough.”

Every year, hundreds of millions of people, mostly factory workers near the southern and eastern coasts, return to the province for the Lunar New Year, which is due to begin on January 22.

The wave of holiday travel is expected to last for 40 days, from Jan. 7 to Feb. 15, officials said.

The state-run China Daily reported Thursday that rural areas in China are strengthening their capacity for medical treatment.

It said a hospital in rural Inner Mongolia, home to more than 100,000 people, was seeking bidders for a 1.9 million yuan ($272,308) contract to upgrade its wards into intensive care units.

Liancheng County Central Hospital in eastern Fujian province is seeking tenders for ambulances and medical devices ranging from breathing machines to electrocardiogram monitors.

In December, tenders announced by hospitals for key medical equipment were two to three times higher than in previous months, according to a Reuters review, suggesting hospitals across the country are struggling to fill shortages.

TESTING REQUIREMENTS

The world’s second-largest economy is expected to experience a slowdown in factory output and domestic consumption in the near term as workers and shoppers fall ill.

The contact-intensive services sector, which accounts for roughly half of China’s economic output, has been hit by the country’s anti-virus restrictions, which have closed many restaurants and limited travel. As China reopens, many service sector businesses have no money to expand.

Reopening too raises perspective Chinese tourists returning to shopping streets around the world, once a $255 billion-a-year global market. But some countries are surprised by the scale of the outbreak and skeptical of Beijing’s COVID statistics.

China’s official death toll of 5,246 since the pandemic began compares with more than 1 million deaths in the United States. Chinese-ruled Hong Kong has reported more than 11,000 deaths.

The United States, India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan have said they will require COVID tests for travelers from China. Britain was considering a similar move, the Telegraph reported.

The United States issued a travel warning on Wednesday, advising Americans to “reconsider travel to China, Hong Kong and Macau” and citing “reports that the health care system is overwhelmed” along with the risk of new variants.

The main airport in the Italian city of Milan began testing passengers arriving from Beijing and Shanghai on December 26 and found that almost half of them were infected.

China has dismissed criticism of its statistics as baseless and politically motivated attempts to smear its policies. He also downplayed the risk of new variants, saying he expected the mutations to be more virulent but less severe.

Omicron is still the dominant strain in China, Chinese health officials said this week.

Australia, Germany, Thailand and others have said they will not impose additional travel restrictions for now.

For its part, China, whose borders have been largely closed to foreigners since early 2020, will stop requiring incoming travelers to undergo quarantine from January 8.

($1 = 6.9774 yuan)

Additional reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard in Chengdu; Written by Marius Zacharias; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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