China’s Covid outbreak appears to be getting worse and worse.
For the past few days, local governments have been reporting hundreds of thousands of infections a day. Sick patients crowd hospital corridors, videos obtained by The Times showed. In a video provided by The Associated Press, a medical worker at a hospital in Zhuozhou, a city near Beijing, asked to move a patient to another location because the facility was out of oxygen.
“China’s medical system is already vulnerable at the best of times – people rely on hospital emergency rooms even for basic care,” said my colleague Isabelle Qian, who reports on China for The Times. “Then the sudden reversal of China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy took hospitals by surprise.”
The situation is difficult to follow in real time as China does not release reliable Covid data. Many experts believe that the published numbers are manipulated. But the stories and videos coming out of the country suggest the crisis is worsening.
The rapid spread of Covid in every country is a concern for health officials around the world as uncontrolled outbreaks give the virus more opportunities to mutate into a more contagious or deadly variant. These fears are particularly acute for China, a country of 1.4 billion people and where the virus originated.
China recently eased its strict “zero Covid” rules after unusually widespread protests against the measures. The guidelines had prevented people from leaving their homes if cases were discovered in their area and required regular testing for much of the population. They also forced overseas travelers, including Chinese nationals, to remain in quarantine for up to two months to enter the country. (That requirement is also eliminated, officials said Monday.)
But the end of the policy has exposed two major weaknesses that the Chinese leadership has not effectively addressed. First, China has not vaccinated large swathes of its most vulnerable elderly population: while 90 percent of all Chinese were reported to be fully vaccinated in November, fewer than 66 percent of those over 80 were fully vaccinated and only 40 percent had received a booster.
Second, China does not have much natural immunity to past Covid waves. His lockdown policy has kept the virus out of the country and likely saved lives in the short term. But they have also left their populations more vulnerable to the disease than those who have been repeatedly exposed to the virus, this newsletter previously explained.
It’s a sharp contrast to the situation in many other countries. Consider the US: Almost all Americans age 65 and older have received a Covid vaccine (although fewer than 37 percent have received the latest booster). Americans have also built up a natural immunity to previous Covid waves that offers some protection. This combination has allowed American life to return to some degree of normality without the hospitalizations and deaths of recent years.
Of course, the US’s looser approach comes at a price of its own: Covid has killed nearly 1.1 million Americans since 2020, according to the CDC, China’s strategy has prevented the virus from causing this death toll since it first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, according to available data of the country. But without adequate preparation for the end of “zero-Covid,” China now faces perhaps its worst outbreak yet.
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ART AND IDEAS
Breakout Stars 2022
This year brought us groundbreaking stars in the entertainment world. Maya Salam, a culture editor at The Times, wrote about seven that caught our attention, including:
Davóne Tines, classical: Tines, a bass-baritone, made his Carnegie Hall debut with his highly personal, carefully curated program Recital No. 1: MASS”.
Quinta Brunson, TV: Your show, Abbott Elementary, is a warm-hearted, but not sugary, network sitcom with a perfect cast.
Julie Benko, Theater: As drama swirled about who would play Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of ‘Funny Girl,’ this former understudy jumped at the chance.