China experiences an upsurge in COVID-19 cases after dismantling stringent “zero-COVID” policy

by: Gabriel Vinci Tamayo || Photo Credit: REUTERS/Aly Song

China scrambles to accommodate patients as the nation undergoes a new wave of COVID-19 cases right after the rollback of the most significant restrictions through its “zero-COVID” policy, forcing residents to stay inside their homes and subsequently resulting in the desertion of streets in major cities. By the end of 2023, the country’s COVID-19 death toll is expected to soar past 1 million.

Last December 7, China announced to lighten its current COVID-19 prevention and control protocols. This is due to the protests in cities across the country calling for an end to the stringent restrictions brought about by the “zero-COVID” policy. However, toning down the protocols has proven to have a more negative effect on the nation as the number of COVID-19 cases has reportedly increased. The rise in cases is currently unknown due to the discontinuation of mandatory testing in several areas. 

Worrying predictions made by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) have also recently surfaced. It is estimated that the country’s COVID-19 death toll will breach 322,000 by April 2023. An analysis of this report performed by Reuters also found that China might see upward of 1 million COVID-19-caused deaths in the next year.

This swell in cases has led to overloaded hospitals, causing numerous cities across China to install more hospital beds and set up clinics for fever screening. It has also caused panic buying to surge, leading to the exponentially significant and sudden rise in demand for pain-relief medicine, flu drugs, vitamin C-rich products, electrolyzed water, and COVID-19 testing kits. Concerned authorities are already preparing health kits and medicinal products, following the nation’s call. The vulnerable groups, such as the elderly of Wuhan, China, are already receiving packs containing medicines, antigen tests, and throat syrups.

Alleged inconsistencies in the death toll are also being found, with the increased number of hearses entering crematoriums every day raising suspicion as China has not reported a single death from COVID-19 since December 4. One witness from Reuters revealed that they saw 40 hearses queuing to enter a crematorium in Beijing.

Along with these suspicions came a massive wave of misinformation on COVID-19. The views of several experts seemed to have drastically shifted, such as the opinion of the architect of the “zero-COVID” policy, Dr. Liang Wannian. He went from supporting the policy, stating that China “cannot tolerate” another massive wave of cases, to stating that “the virus is much milder now,” suggesting that he supports making the policy more lenient. 

Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a seasoned pulmonologist who helped combat the SARS outbreak, took it a step further by spreading information that is not only misleading but also outright wrong. Dr. Zhong stated that he has not seen COVID-19 do long-term damage to a patient’s organs and that 78% of patients infected with the Omicron variant will not be infected again for a long time. Nevertheless, such claims have already been proven wrong by studies and general observations. 

“It doesn’t matter whether [the sources] are reputable or not,” stated Huang Yanzhong, a senior for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, when asked about the rising amount of COVID-19-related fake news. 

“They find anything that they thought would be useful to them, they start to translate that into Chinese, and start to spread it, and it becomes viral,” Huang added.

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