Beijing is running low on medical supplies as the Chinese capital battles a fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak, health workers said, stressing limited resources just as authorities lift pandemic restrictions.
Clinics designated for Covid-19 patients are filling up fast and some hospitals in the city of 22 million have begun rationing ibuprofen and paracetamol. Residents of Chaoyang, the district at the center of Beijing’s Covid outbreak, have emptied pharmacy shelves of fever-reducing drugs and rapid antigen tests, staff at several pharmacies told the FT.
“We have a child with a high fever, but all pharmacies don’t have ibuprofen,” said a Beijing resident surnamed Lin. “He came too fast, we didn’t have time to prepare.”
Beijing is facing its first major wave of coronavirus just as Chinese leaders have started to relax zero-covid controls. Chinese cabinet on Wednesday formally allowed home quarantine for asymptomatic and mild patients, a sign that the country’s lockdown system, enforced quarantine in state facilities, mass testing and contact tracing have failed to contain the proliferation of outbreaks.
new modeling revealed by the Financial Times this week showed that up to 1 million people could die in the country in a “winter wave” in the coming months.
Tens of millions of Chinese are expected to travel home during the Lunar New Year holiday next month. increase the risk of spreading the virus from large urban centers to unprotected rural towns.
Most of the country’s 1.4 billion people have never been infected and have received Chinese-produced vaccines, which offer less protection to needles manufactured abroad with messenger RNA technology.
On Thursday night, lines formed outside pharmacies across Chaoyang as Beijingers tried to stock up on medical supplies. “If you’re lining up to buy fever reducers, ibuprofen, we don’t have it,” a pharmacist yelled at a line of a dozen people waiting in near-freezing temperatures.
Emergency departments in Beijing are already reporting an influx of Covid patients, whom the city is trying to funnel through 94 designated clinics and hospitals. Peking Union Medical College Hospital, one of the country’s top-ranked medical facilities, converted its employee gym into a dialysis center for end-stage renal disease patients who have tested positive for the virus.
“The fever clinics are a total disaster,” said a Beijing doctor, who was advising patients to stay home rather than seek medical treatment. That message is also carried by the local media, as authorities try to reserve the city’s limited hospital beds for patients with severe cases.
A person briefed on the situation at one of the fever clinics said it was filling up with patients and no doctors. “The hospital is sending doctors from other departments to work shifts at the fever clinic,” the person said. “Everyone works 24 hours straight, rests 24 hours, and then comes back for another shift.”
A study last year by the Peking University School of Public Health warned that the capital was not prepared for such a wave of Covid. The study found that Beijing had about 500 doctors specializing in treating fever, which it said was “too low.”
The city reported 4,338 new Covid cases on Thursday for the previous day. That number was lower than Tuesday’s total, but it came as the testing rate slowed and residents turned to rapid home tests, which aren’t included in the city’s case count.
At the Beijing Civil Aviation General Hospital, the line to enter the fever clinic stretched all the way to the parking lot. “We have been waiting for two hours,” said a person with a fever.
Ma Han, 28, said he had relied on friends to find medicine and antigen test kits after his wife came down with a fever on Monday. “I looked at all the delivery platforms (Meituan, Ele.me, JD) either they didn’t have anything in stock or they couldn’t deliver on the day,” she said.
Residents of other Chinese cities have been hoarding resources amid widespread lockdowns this year.
A doctor at Shanghai’s Sixth People’s Hospital said the abrupt relaxation of restrictions meant the city’s overworked doctors would soon be faced with a growing number of Covid patients.
“Our hospitals are barely maintaining normal operations these days,” the doctor said.
Additional reporting by Thomas Hale in Shanghai and Edward White in Seoul