Chinese provinces hit hard by Covid are seeing a strain on critical care, health officials say

People wait outside a fever clinic at Tongren Hospital in Shanghai on Dec. 23, 2022, amid a local outbreak of Covid-19 infections.
Hector Retamal | Afp | Getty Images
BEIJING — Some Chinese provinces’ intensive care beds and resources are nearing capacity as Covid-19 infections soar, national health authorities said Tuesday.

“In provinces currently experiencing high demand for intensive care, they are nearing the critical threshold of available ICU beds and resources,” Jiao Yahui, director of the medical affairs department at China’s National Health Commission, said during a press conference. That’s according to a CNBC translation of the Mandarin remarks.

In such regions, Jiao said, “it is necessary to expand the availability of ICU beds and resources, or speed up turnover.”

Overall, Jiao claimed national availability of ICU beds was sufficient, at 12.8 per 100,000 people as of Dec. 25.

Early this month, mainland China abruptly ended many Covid controls. Infections have meanwhile surged, pressuring the country’s already stretched health system.

It is unclear at what scale Covid outbreaks have hit the country, with few official figures on recent infections and deaths. China’s National Health Commission on Sunday stopped sharing daily figures after a halt in mandatory virus testing.

Some local governments have disclosed details on the regional situation.

Zhejiang province — bordering Shanghai — said Sunday that daily Covid infections in the region have surpassed 1 million, and will likely double to a peak of 2 million a day around New Year’s. The province has a population of about 65.4 million.

In the capital city of Beijing — one of the earliest to see a Covid wave — the share of severe cases and elderly patients has increased at fever clinics, according to an official report Saturday. It cited a director at a local hospital as saying the share of visits by the elderly had climbed from below 20% to nearly 50%.

China’s health authorities were speaking Tuesday at a briefing on the country’s new Covid measures, released late Monday. The policy changes included plans to scrap quarantine for inbound travelers starting Jan. 8.

“We view the new guidelines as a major step towards the full reopening, but caution on the increased challenges to China’s medical system in the near term,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note Tuesday.

“The frontloaded China reopening timetable adds conviction to our below-consensus forecast for Q4 GDP growth (+1.7% yoy) and above-consensus 2023 GDP forecast (+5.2% yoy),” the analysts said.

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