China’s top health body said on Wednesday that the true scale of coronavirus infections in the country is now “impossible” to track, with officials warning that Beijing’s cases are rising rapidly after the government abruptly abandoned its zero-Covid policy last week.
After nearly three years of efforts to eradicate the virus, the sudden end of mass testing and quarantines has led to a corresponding drop in officially reported infections, which only reached an all-time high last month.
With testing no longer necessary in much of the country, China’s National Health Commission admitted on Wednesday that the numbers no longer reflected reality.
“Many asymptomatic people no longer participate in nucleic acid testing, so it is impossible to accurately understand the true number of asymptomatic people infected,” the NHC said in a statement.
The statement comes after Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan said new infections in the capital are “growing rapidly” according to state media.
Chinese leaders are determined to continue opening, with Beijing’s tourism authority saying on Tuesday it would resume tour groups in and out of the capital.
But the country is facing an increase in cases that experts fear it is ill-equipped to deal with, with millions of frail elderly still not fully vaccinated and underfunded hospitals lacking the resources to meet the expected influx of infected patients.
A queue of about 50 people stretched out the door of Beijing’s Puren fever clinic on Wednesday, with several residents telling AFP they were infected with Covid.
“Basically, when we queue here, we are all infected. We wouldn’t come here if we weren’t,” one person waiting in line told AFP.
“I’m here with a senior member of my family. He’s had a fever for almost 10 days in a row now, so we’re coming to check on him.”
Restaurants, shops and parks are now allowed to reopen, but residents do not find the way to life with the virus that easy.
Many with symptoms have chosen to self-medicate at home, while others stay indoors to protect themselves from infection.
And businesses are struggling as COVID-19 rips through the population and impacts their workforce.
As a result, Beijing’s streets are largely empty.
Residents have complained of sold-out cold medicines and long queues at pharmacies, while Chinese search giant Baidu said searches for fever-reducing ibuprofen rose 430 percent in the past week.
Rising demand for rapid antigen tests and drugs has created a black market with astronomical prices, as buyers resort to buying the goods from “dealers” whose contacts are passed on to WeChat groups.
Authorities are cracking down, with market regulators fining a Beijing company 300,000 yuan ($43,000) for selling overpriced test kits, local Beijing News reported Tuesday.
And in a country where infection with the virus was once taboo and recovering patients were discriminated against, people are taking to social media to show off their test results and give detailed descriptions of their experience while sick.
“When my body temperature reached 37.2 degrees, I started adding some sugar and salt to my lemon water,” Beijing-based Xiaohongshu user of the social site “Nina” wrote in an account intended as advice to those who were not yet infected.
“I’m Resurrected!!” wrote another account owner in the caption of a photo showing a row of five positive antigen tests and one negative.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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