SHANGHAI — Patients are crammed into hallways, stairwells and lobbies, and the sick keep coming. In scenes reminiscent of the start of the coronavirus pandemic in2020, Chinese hospitals are struggling. To cope with a surge. In Covid-19 cases following. The country’s decision to scrap its “zero-Covid” policy in early December.
While the move eased three years of austerity measures that had triggered rare mass unrest. It spread the virus to a population of 1.4 billion people. Who were largely shielded from it.
After international criticism that it was not transparent about the severity of the outbreak. The Chinese government said last weekend that. It had recorded 60,000 Covid-related deaths since December 8.
But this figure only covers those who died in hospital, suggesting the actual death toll could be much higher. An estimate on Tuesday by Airfinity, an independent forecaster based in London. Put the number of Covid-related deaths in China since Dec. 1 at 608,000, 10 times the official figure.
“Our forecast assumes a significant burden on China’s healthcare system. For the next fortnight,” said Dr. Matt Linley, director of analytics at Airfinity. And it is likely that many treatable patients will die due to hospital overcrowding and lack of care.”
NBC News witnessed chaotic scenes at overflowing hospitals in Shanghai, China’s financial center. And most populous city of 26 million people. After a two-month lockdown in less than a year in an effort to stop the virus, the city is now suffering the consequences of its relaxation.
Those who die at the hospital are taken for cremation. At a funeral home on NBC News, families are allotted 10 minutes to say goodbye. Relatives carry flowers and pictures of the dead in their scheduled time slots through the rain.
“My father had no symptoms but still died,” said a 31-year-old woman outside a hospital in central Shanghai.
“Thirty-five people died the day before yesterday, right here,” said the woman. Who lives in Australia and, like others. Interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity
because of political sensitivities. In China. “Since my mother was here, I came here every day to see [her]. The day my father was admitted to the hospital, almost all the patients in the emergency department died.”
The severity of the outbreak surprised him and many others.
“It’s much more serious than I expected, much more serious,” the woman said. “Especially for the elderly, whether or not they had a pre-existing disease, the virus can end their lives.”
The hospital here is so busy, street vendors have set up outside to profit from the surge in visitors after nearly two years of scraping by.
“Most of my customers are patients’ families and patients themselves or hospital nurses,” says one vendor.
Satellite images taken in December and January by Colorado. Based aerospace technology company Maxar show large Covid numbers of cars. In crematoriums as well as new construction. In mainland Chinese cities, giving a glimpse of the outbreak’s human cost.
At a funeral in Shanghai, a woman leaving the crematorium cried: “Why did you leave us so soon? Now I am alone in the world.”
China on Thursday repeatedly complained about its Western media coverage of the outbreak. With an editorial in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, criticizing reports. From some unidentified outlets as “totally biased propaganda, smears. And political manipulation with ulterior motives.”
It said life is returning to normal in areas where cases peaked, as residents of some major cities also told NBC News.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday that “zero-Covid” was the “right choice” for China for. Much of the pandemic but the government’s response had entered a “new phase”.
“Difficult challenges remain, but there is a glimmer of hope before us,” he said in a virtual meeting with. Medical staff at a hospital in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, according to state media.
Xi said he is particularly worried about those living in rural areas, as large numbers of people travel to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year. Also known as the Spring Festival, which officially begins on Sunday. Rural areas in China often have far fewer medical resources than cities.
“For the next two or three weeks, we know the virus is going to find its way to Covid every last corner of the country. Said Professor Ben Cowling, chair of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.
“That means they’re going to have a lot of infections in rural areas, probably. In a short period of time, and the impact could be even greater because of the lack of resources.”
Also Wednesday, Chinese authorities announced a crackdown on pandemic “rumors.”