China Ends Zero COVID With Zero Preparation For What Follows
While much of the Pandemic Panic Narrative regarding COVID-19 has focused on overall case counts, from the beginning of the pandemic it has been my contention that hospitalization rates are far more relevant to measuring the public health impact of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
China’s abrupt dropping of many of its Zero COVID protocols and procedures over the past week is, based on media reporting, providing an ironic demonstration of this, as an ongoing surge in COVID cases in the aftermath of Zero COVID’s ending is placing tremendous strain on China’s hospitals and healthcare infrastructure.
Hospital wards are filling up with patients displaying mostly mild symptoms but still harbouring a fear of the disease that has locked them away from the rest of the world for the past three years.
A nurse at one of Beijing’s oldest and largest hospitals said doctors and nurses who thought they were infected but had yet to get a test result had been asked to go back to work because of the staff shortages.
“Too many patients who indeed need treatment have flooded in,” they said.
If such reports are accurate, Xi Jinping’s decision to end Zero COVID in the face of growing protests against the policy has catalyzed a fresh public health crisis in the form of an overwhelmed and unprepared healthcare system.
We should note that one of the signature differences between China’s experience of COVID and the US experience of the disease has been the ability of US hospitals to adapt to handle patient volumes throughout the pandemic. Indeed, the capacities of US hospitals in this regard has been a major data set discrediting the entire Pandemic Panic Narrative.
Despite the pearl-clutching of the corporate media, from the onset of the COVID pandemic, the US has never been short of staffed hospital beds, as the data has proven time and again.
Apparently, the same cannot be said of China’s hospitals.
The nurse said the hospital’s plans were thrown out the window by the abrupt end to restrictions following a week of anti-government protests.
“In the beginning, we tried to balance the need by vacating other buildings for COVID patients. But the balance was broken as more and more positive patients came, together with an increasing number of patients, doctors, and nurses who got infected,” they said.
“Now, we feel helpless. The contingency plan has become infeasible as our plan is conflicting with the national policy.
“We can’t even protect ourselves.”
We should also note that the current wave of COVID infections is not itself a consequence of easing Zero COVID. While the abrupt termination of Zero COVID policies has arguably exacerbated the strain on and chaos within China’s hospitals, the wave itself predates the ending of Zero COVID.
Even the WHO's emergencies director Mike Ryan has accurately noted that the timing of Zero COVID’s easing and the emergence of this latest infection wave do not coincide.
"There's a narrative at the moment that China lifted the restrictions and all of a sudden the disease is out of control," he said.
"The disease was spreading intensively because I believe the control measures in themselves were not stopping the disease. And I believe China decided strategically that was not the best option anymore."
Zero COVID has always been a failure at halting community spread of the virus, and this time has been no different.
In typical CCP fashion, Beijing is attempting to obscure the obvious failure of Zero COVID as a policy by minimizing the scale of the COVID infection wave. As they have done in the past, they are doing this by simply not counting cases.
China will only release data on symptomatic COVID infections, the country announced Wednesday as it struggles to keep the virus at bay after relaxing its so-called zero-COVID restrictions.
While the overall utility of counting asymptomatic cases is structurally problematic, the abrupt exclusion of such cases from the overall total has the effect of producing a seeming decline in total case counts, as the graph above illustrates. However, ignoring some cases does not mean those cases do not exist, nor does it mean those patients are not able to spread the disease further. WIth or without accurate official case counts, the virus is still going to virus.
Despite the “official” decline in COVID cases, however, reports are still emerging showing China’s hospitals collapsing under a sudden wave of new cases.
China’s surge in COVID-19 cases after the government’s abrupt rollback of its heavy-handed restrictions had led to chaos at ill-prepared and understaffed hospitals, as long lines of fearful residents inundate its clinics.
With limited exposure to a disease kept largely in check until now, China is unprepared, according to analysts, for a wave of infections that could overwhelm its fragile health system and cripple businesses as its economy continues to shrink.
Yesterday, the South China Morning Post tweeted a video montage showing patients in China receiving treatments—including IVs—while sitting in their cars, a grim attestation of the inadequacies of China’s healthcare systems in the face of surging COVID cases.
Moreover, China is reportedly facing challenges beyond full hospitals and clinics. There are also reports of panic-buying of medicines, COVID tests, and other healthcare items, producing shortages of these items as stores are unable to keep pace with the surge in demand.
People have been rushing to buy ibuprofen, cold medicines and Covid testing kits amid reports of shortages.
Products for home remedies are now largely unavailable online, including lemons and canned peaches rich in vitamin C, and electrolysed water.
Hoarding has been a common global issue but this may be the first instance of it after lockdowns were eased.
According to China Daily, Chinese social media has been circulating lists of medicines and supplies to have on hand in the event of a COVID infection requiring home isolation.
The fervor has been reflected in part by several lists of medications widely shared on messaging app WeChat and microblogging service Sina Weibo, whose pronounced aim is to navigate a person through dealing with a possible infection at home.
One such catalog contains eight medications, including the common cold medicine Lianhua Qingwen, the anti-inflammatory drug Ibuprofen and vitamin C tablets.
An accompanying note provided advice on which drugs should be used in four scenarios: prevention, early stage, middle or recovering stage and when the body aches.
Others even went as far as to recommend drugs approved for COVID-19 treatment, such as the pricey antiviral pill Paxlovid, and devices such as oximeters, which measure the oxygen concentration in arterial blood, and lung ventilators.
The inclusion of Paxlovid on the list of medicines to have on hand carries no small amount of irony, yet Pfizer has struck a deal to sell the medicine in China.
Meanwhile, local and provincial governments in China are responding in typical bureaucratic fashion: issuing orders telling hospitals and clinics to simply increase capacity, add staff, and otherwise prepare by the end of December for a surge in COVID patients.
China's top COVID epidemic control group released a working announcement to boost the medical supplies in rural areas by demanding qualified clinics in counties and villages to open fever clinics and operate those clinics 24 hours a day by the end of December as part of the country's efforts in optimizing tiered medical services in preparation for the waves of infection.
Top hospitals in each province should help those in the province's rural areas improve rural areas' ability to cope with the surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the announcement released by the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council on Sunday. The measures include sending medical workers to rural hospitals, and setting up remote networking to assist doctors in counties and villages.
The announcement also laid out a series of targets that rural hospitals should achieve by the end of December including accelerating the construction and upgrade of ICU units to ensure that the number of ICU designated for those infected with severe symptoms will be no less than 4 percent of the overall open beds.
Left unsaid and unexplained in these directives is where hospitals—which are already understaffed for the surges in patients that are happening now—are going to find spare staff to send to rural areas, or indeed how rural clinics are going find the resources to build the additional facilities required in the time frame specified.
China’s provincial and local governments can issue all the directives, decrees, and demands they wish, but they cannot escape the reality of a basic lack of resources which media reports show even now are impacting hospitals across China. Expanded infrastructure, increased staff levels, and even increased staff training are all excellent ideas, but for such ideas to have an impact on the ongoing COVID wave they needed to have begun implementation months ago.
Without lockdowns confining people to their homes, without China’s infamous state-run “quarantine” facilities warehousing those sick with COVID, China’s hospitals are having to face the full brunt of this latest infection wave, and the healthcare resources hospitals need to cope with the infection wave simply do not exist. China is simply unprepared for this infection wave, and has no time to prepare.
At this juncture, having rescinded much of the Zero COVID protocols and procedures, China has little alternative but to let this infection wave run its course, regardless of how long that will take, how many people wil get sick, or even how many people will ultimately die.
This was always going to be the ultimate outcome for Zero COVID. Having been a failure from the beginning as a disease mitigation method, the only possible ending for the Zero COVID policy has been to step aside and simply let the virus burn through the Chinese population. The most that can be said of Zero COVID is that it delayed the inevitable—which is a depiction not of policy success but of policy failure.
This latest wave of COVID infections merely makes plain that, for Zero COVID, success was never an option.
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