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

People wait outside a fever clinic at Tongren Hospital in Shanghai in December. 23, 2022, amid a local outbreak of Covid-19 infections.

Héctor Retamal | Afp | Getty Images

BEIJING – Intensive care beds and resources in some Chinese provinces are nearing capacity as Covid-19 infections rise, national health authorities said on Tuesday.

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

In these regions, Jiao said, “the availability of ICU beds and resources needs to be expanded, or rotation accelerated.”

Overall, Jiao said the national availability of ICU beds was sufficient, with 12.8 per 100,000 people as of December. 25.

Earlier this month, mainland China abruptly ended many Covid controls. Meanwhile, infections have increased, putting pressure on the country’s already stretched health care system.

It is not clear on what scale the Covid outbreaks have affected the country, with few official figures on recent infections and deaths. China’s National Health Commission stopped sharing daily figures on Sunday after halting mandatory virus testing.

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Some local governments have released details about the regional situation.

Zhejiang province, which borders Shanghai, said on Sunday that daily Covid infections in the region have topped one million and are likely to double to a peak of 2 million a day around the New Year. The province has a population of about 65.4 million inhabitants.

In the capital Beijing, one of the first to see a wave of Covid, the proportion of serious cases and elderly patients has increased in fever clinics, according to an official report on Saturday. He quoted a local hospital director who said the proportion of visits by the elderly had risen from less than 20% to nearly 50%.

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China’s health authorities were speaking on Tuesday in a briefing on the country’s new Covid measures, published late Monday. The policy changes included plans to remove quarantine for incoming travelers from January. 8.

“We see the new guidelines as an important step toward full reopening, but caution against increased challenges for China’s medical system in the near term,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note on Tuesday.

“China’s reopening timeline adds conviction to our below-consensus forecast for 4Q GDP growth (+1.7% y-o-y) and above-consensus 2023 GDP forecast (+5.2% year-on-year),” the analysts said.

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