HONG KONG — China changes its Covid-19 playbook in the middle an increase in cases as it seeks to avoid strains on its healthcare system.
Health authorities said patients without symptoms or only mild should go to centralized isolation facilities so hospitals can focus on more serious cases.
The change in mandatory hospitalization rules that has led China through most of the pandemic is a recognition that its current approach risks overwhelming hospitals amid a rapid rise in cases.
China registered more than 15,000 symptomatic locally transmitted infections in 28 provinces so far in March, mainly due to the spread of the more infectious Omicron variantMi Feng, spokesman for China’s National Health Commission, told a news conference on Tuesday.
The 5,154 new symptomatic and asymptomatic infections found on Monday are the highest since the beginning of 2020, when the epidemic first broke out in China. About 4,000 were from the northeastern province of Jilin, according to data released by the health commission on Tuesday.
The worsening outbreak there led the authorities to ban travel to or from the province and restrict the movements of millions of residents.
The recent wave of infections has also seen unnecessary businesses closed and travel limited in the financial and industrial hubs of Shanghai and Shenzhen. Increasing concern that more cities will follow helped a sale of shares in Chinese companies, which sends key indexes to their lowest for years. Covid-19 outbreaks now pose the biggest risk to China’s economy, according to Deutsche Bank’s Chinese chief economist Yi Xiong.
The majority of the new infections were in Jilin City and the nearby provincial capital of Changchun, where residents had already been placed under “closed management.”
Unnecessary businesses have to close and people stay home, with a household member allowed out every other day to buy food and other necessities while all residents go through several rounds of testing.
Since the first case was discovered in Jilin on March 1, new infections in the province had been around 100 a day. But numbers rose on Saturday, and China’s deputy prime minister in charge of its anti-Covid-19 strategy, Sun Chunlan, arrived the next day to spearhead efforts to stop the outbreak.
Sun asked authorities to speed up the screening using both nucleic acid and rapid antigen tests, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Seven hospitals were ordered to empty their wards and turn all efforts against treating vulnerable and seriously ill Covid-19 patients. The province is also building five makeshift treatment facilities to house and observe mild and asymptomatic cases, bringing the number of beds available to nearly 30,000, according to data provided by the Jilin provincial government during a news briefing on Tuesday.
These strategies were also gathered in updated official guidance for the diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19 patients published by the National Health Commission on Tuesday night.
It also formally included the use of
Covid-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid in the treatment plan. Chinese regulators granted a conditional approval of the drug for emergency use in China last month.
Outbreaks at the financial and technological hubs in Shanghai and Shenzhen, with 139 and 60 mostly asymptomatic new cases on Monday, respectively, prompted local authorities to restrict citizen mobility.
More than 100 international flights scheduled to arrive in Shanghai will be diverted to other Chinese cities from next week to ease pressure on the city’s anti-pandemic work, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the Chinese aviation authority on Tuesday. The flight redirects will last until May 1, the regulator said.
The recent outbreaks, which have already led to large producers from
Toyota Motor Corp.
to stop production at some factoriesalso affects goods logistics in China.
Truck operations in areas including Shenzhen, Shanghai, Tianjin and Qingdao are likely to be slower, as drivers are often required to take Covid tests and present negative results due to local authorities’ requirements, said the Danish container ship company AP Møller-Mærsk A / S in a counseling on Monday. Department stores in Shenzhen are closed until March 20, Maersk also said.
Shenzhen is demanding that lorries entering from neighboring Hong Kong – which reported more than 27,000 cases on Tuesday – change driver at three designated border checkpoints in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19, government statements showed.
On Saturday, Ms Sun said in a televised speech to the Pandemic Task Force led by the Cabinet, known as the Prime Minister, that China should adhere to “the general policy of ‘dynamic clearing’ without faltering or relaxing.”
According to the policy, local authorities are obliged to bring any outbreak under control as soon as possible by identifying the source of infections and cutting further transmission through testing and isolation.
The measures in China vary from region to region and in length, depending on the size of the outbreak and local conditions such as population density and the resources available to the authorities.
A Covid-19 forecasting system from China’s Lanzhou University predicted on Monday that if health authorities implement their containment measures in a timely and effective manner, case numbers in the current wave would peak around now, with infections under control in early April and result in around 35,000 infections.
– Raffaele Huang contributed to this article.
Write to Sha Hua at [email protected]
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