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China’s new Covid chapter – The New York Times


China’s Covid outbreak seems to be getting worse and worse.

In recent days, local authorities have reported hundreds of thousands of infections every day. Sick patients are crammed in hospital corridors, videos obtained by The Times show. In an AP video, a medical staff member at a hospital in Zhuozhou, a city near Beijing, asked a patient to be taken to another location because the facility had run out of oxygen.

“China’s health system is inherently fragile even in the best of times — people rely on hospital emergency rooms for basic care,” says my colleague Isabelle Qian, who specializes in writing. about China for The Times, said. “After that, China’s sudden reversal of its ‘no Covid’ policy caught hospitals off guard.”

The situation is difficult to track in real time because China does not publish reliable Covid data. Many experts believe that the numbers it publishes have been manipulated. But stories and videos coming from the country show the crisis is getting worse.

The rapid spread of Covid in any country is a concern for health officials around the world as unchecked outbreaks create more opportunities for the virus to mutate into a more contagious or dangerous variant. Those fears are especially acute for China, a country of 1.4 billion people and where the virus originated.

China recently relaxed its strict “Covid-free” rules after protests against the measures spread abnormally. Policies prevented people from leaving their homes if cases were detected in their area and required regular testing of the majority of the population. They also forced foreign visitors, including Chinese nationals, to quarantine for two months before entering the country. (That requirement will also go away, officials said Monday.)

But the end of the policies exposed two major gaps that China’s leaders failed to address effectively. First, China has not vaccinated a large, most vulnerable segment of the population: While 90% of Chinese were reported to have been fully vaccinated by November, less than 66% of those 80 years of age and older who are fully vaccinated and only 40% get a booster shot .

Second, China does not have much natural immunity to previous waves of Covid. Its lockdown policies prevented the virus from entering the country, which could save many lives in no time. But they also make populations more susceptible to infection than those who have been repeatedly exposed to the virus, as this bulletin previously explained.

It is a stark contrast to the situation in many other countries. Consider the United States: Nearly all Americans age 65 and older have been vaccinated against Covid (although less than 37% have had the latest booster). Americans have also built up natural immunity from previous waves of Covid, providing some protection. That combination has allowed Americans’ lives to return to a sense of normalcy, without the levels of hospitalizations and deaths in recent years.

Of course, the US’s looser approach has its own costs: Covid has killed nearly 1.1 million Americans since 2020, according to the CDC’s entry into the nation’s available data. But without adequate preparation for the end of “zero Covid”, China is currently facing the outbreak that could be the worst.

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