- Hospitals, funeral homes report surge in COVID infections
- China reports three new COVID deaths on Tuesday
- Some countries consider travel rules for Chinese tourists
CHENGDU, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Chinese hospitals and funeral homes were under intense pressure on Wednesday as a surge in the COVID-19 wave drained resources, while the scale of the outbreak and doubts about official figures prompted some countries to consider sanctions against Chinese nationals. Implement new travel regulations for visitors.
China’s abrupt policy change, which this month began lifting the world’s strictest COVID lockdown and widespread testing regime, puts its battered economy on track for a full restart next year.
Lifting restrictions after widespread protests against them means COVID is spreading largely unchecked and could infect millions of people every day, some international health experts say.
The speed at which China rolled back COVID rules, the last major country in the world to treat the virus as endemic, has overwhelmed its fragile health system.
China reported three new COVID-related deaths on Tuesday, up from one on Monday — a number that is at odds with what funeral homes have reported or what countries with smaller populations have experienced as they reopen.
Staff at Huaxi, a major hospital in the southwestern city of Chengdu, said they were “very busy” taking in COVID patients.
“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years and it’s the busiest I’ve ever known,” said an ambulance driver outside the hospital, who asked not to be named.
On Tuesday night, queues formed both inside and outside the hospital’s emergency room and at nearby fever clinics. Most of those who arrived by ambulance were given oxygen to help them breathe.
“Nearly all of the patients had COVID-19,” said an emergency room pharmacy worker.
She said the hospital did not have a stock of COVID-specific medicines and could only provide medicines for symptoms such as coughs.
The parking lot around Dongjiao Funeral Home, one of the largest funeral homes in Chengdu, is full. Thick smoke billowed from the crematorium, and the funeral procession continued.
“We now have to do this about 200 times a day,” said one funeral home worker. “We’re so busy we don’t even have time to eat. It’s been like that since it opened. Before it was around 30-50 times a day.”
“Many people died from COVID,” said another worker.
At Nanling Crematorium, another private crematorium in Chengdu, staff were equally busy.
“So many people have died from COVID recently,” one worker said. “The cremation places are fully booked. You won’t get one until New Years.”
China said it only counted COVID-related deaths of COVID patients from pneumonia and respiratory failure.
Zhang Yuhua, head of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, said that most of the recent patients are elderly critically ill patients with underlying diseases. She said the number of patients receiving urgent care had risen to 450-550 a day, from about 100 previously, according to state media.
The fever clinic at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing was also “crowded” with elderly patients, state media reported.
Nurses and doctors were called to work, while sick and retired medical staff in rural communities were brought back in to help. Some cities have been battling drug shortages.
In a major step towards freer travel, China will stop requiring incoming travelers to quarantine from January 1. 8, the authorities said this week.
Global financial center Hong Kong also said on Wednesday it would lift most of the last remaining COVID restrictions.
Online searches for flights from China surged from extremely low levels on Tuesday, but residents and travel agents said it would be months before normal levels returned to normal amid widespread caution.
Additionally, some governments are considering additional travel requirements for Chinese tourists.
U.S. officials cited a “lack of transparent data” as a reason for doing so.
India, Taiwan and Japan will require travelers from mainland China to have a negative COVID test, while those who test positive in Japan must undergo a one-week quarantine. Tokyo also plans to restrict airlines from increasing flights to China.
The Philippines is also considering testing.
China’s $17 trillion economy is expected to see a slowdown in factory output and domestic 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. automaker Tesla (TSLA.O) plans to scale back production at its Shanghai factory in January, according to an internal timetable seen by Reuters. It didn’t say why.
Once the initial shock of new infections passes, some economists expect Chinese growth to rebound with a vengeance this year from its slowest growth rate of about 3 percent projected for nearly half a century.
Economists at Morgan Stanley expect growth of 5.4% in 2023, while economists at Goldman Sachs expect growth of 5.2%.
Reporting by Marting Quin Pollard in Chengdu, Chen Lin in Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing bureaus; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Christian Schmollinger
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