Chinese New Year brings new COVID-19 fears to rural areas as millions travel home for a holiday

BEIJING, China — As the first cases of COVID-19 hit China’s major cities, eyes are turning to rural areas where a new wave of infections is expected, making processing China’s often poorer and more remote regions complicated.

“Even with good healthcare facilities in a big city like Shanghai, we were completely overwhelmed. We can only wait and see what happens in the countryside,” a 25-year-old medical student working as a pediatrician at one of Shanghai’s largest children’s hospitals told Fox News. digital.

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“When the government unexpectedly abandoned all COVID-19 restrictions, we didn’t know what hit us. We weren’t prepared at all.”

A man wearing face masks trades Chinese Lunar New Year decorations at a sidewalk shop in Beijing, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. China has suspended or closed the social media accounts of more than 1,000 critics of government policies on the COVID-19 outbreak, as the country moved to open up further.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

“The hospital was crowded,” said the pediatrician, whose name was withheld for security reasons. “Everywhere I looked were parents with their children. I work about 55 hours during a normal week, but I’ve stopped counting peak hours. We’re not forced to work overtime, but we all know.” That if we don’t do that, there’s no way we can help everyone.”

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She said the conditions for treating patients were minimal. “We had four to five minutes for each patient. I felt bad, because the parents had to wait hours before seeing a doctor, and we could only do a few minutes of assessment. But there was no other way. Fortunately, the parents were grateful. I think it’s Obviously we’re all in this together.”

A woman wearing a mask holds a baby in front of workers decorating a parade to celebrate the 20th Party Congress in Beijing.

A woman wearing a mask holds a baby in front of workers decorating a parade to celebrate the 20th Party Congress in Beijing.
(AP Photo/By Han Guan)

In most major cities in China, including Beijing and Shanghai, the first peak of COVID has passed. In a recent study published by Frontiers of Medicine, a journal sponsored by the Chinese government, Shanghai experts expect the first wave to reach rural China at the end of January.

As China celebrates the Lunar New Year, experts are concerned that millions of people leaving the big cities could lead to the virus catching the virus in rural areas of the country due to poor healthcare facilities. People who live a few hours away from cities are advised to return to their cities if they fall ill, but this is only an option for some.

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“It is not difficult to assess whether a child is seriously ill with COVID. Any primary doctor can do this both in the city and in the countryside. The problem is not a lack of knowledge but a lack of facilities. In serious cases, people struggle to come to big cities for treatment.”

Fortunately, the children’s hospital where she works is better equipped for the influx of patients. Doctors from other departments are set to work in the fever clinic, more rooms have been vacated, and it appears medicines are available again. “I’m ready for the second wave. It can’t get much worse than the first,” she said.

Patients lie on beds and stretchers in a corridor of the emergency department of a hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China, January 4, 2023.

Patients lie on beds and stretchers in a corridor of the emergency department of a hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China, January 4, 2023.
(Reuters)

For the first time since lifting their coronavirus-free restrictions in early December 2022, Chinese authorities released data on COVID-related deaths last weekend. According to official statistics, nearly 60,000 hospital deaths were recorded between December 8, 2022 and January 12, 2023. Jiao Yahui, head of the Medical Administration Office under the National Health Commission, explained that nearly 54,000 deaths were related to underlying causes. health conditions.

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Experts outside China, including within the World Health Organization, point out that these numbers seem unrealistically low. According to projections from the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), China is likely to reach 1 million coronavirus deaths in 2023.

The pediatrician explains: “The only way I can explain these low numbers is that people are not going to let their loved ones die in the hospital. As for children, their parents always take them home when there is no hope of recovery.” In these cases, tracking COVID deaths will be difficult.

In comments reported by state media on Thursday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said the virus was at a “relatively low” level, while health officials said the number of hospitalized and critically ill COVID patients was declining.

Reuters Contribute to this article.

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