A free for all situation exists in China helping the unchecked spread of the Coronavirus across the country. The government, totally unprepared for the unfolding complications, is, unlike in the past, now a firm believer in the theory of herd immunity coming to its rescue one day or the other.
There is no clarity on the number of infections with the communist government refusing to put out any data. Western media claims the infections would be in the millions, and the incidence of deaths would be growing beyond imagination.
As things stand, the hospitals are all full, whether government or private. There is no place for more patients to get admission. Getting a bed is out of the question. Walkways and aisles are full of patients lying on the damp floors.
The majority of the patients are left to their options outside of the government health apparatus. Millions do not have access to medicine, oxygen, respiratory machines or other medial equipment. The only thing they access is a medical drip.
Fears of the elderly losing their life either to the infection or their comorbidities are growing because of these inadequacies. Most of the older patients are in the meantime developing other health complications, especially lung infections.
The younger generation of Chinese are the most vexed by the lack of medical services. They are ignoring all health warnings and going all out to invite infections. Their logic is if they get infected and are quarantined at home for 14 days, they will recover and get immunity from the virus.
Such immature logic has led to thousands of youth getting the virus, with many also developing complications – a possibility they never thought of. And with no access to health services, they face unexpected hardships.
Chinese people in general are not too enthused about taking China-made vaccines. They suspect the vaccines hardly work and give lo immunity levels. Foreign vaccines are available in the black market but the ordinary citizens cannot afford the high prices.
Meanwhile, having spent weeks and months in their homes, the people in general are daring to move out with a vengeance. At least in the big cities, they are returning to malls, restaurants and parks, and even queuing up for visas and tourist permits. The state-run Global Times newspaper declared “normal times are back”, attributing the line to interviews with Chinese.
If normal days are indeed back, it is an uncomfortable return to normalcy for many.
But beyond the major cities, it is difficult to know how people – particularly in China’s rural regions – are responding to an about-face in government messaging.
For three years, state-run media presented the virus as a dangerous menace to society, vowing that it would achieve “dynamic zero-Covid” to keep the population safe. But that rhetoric has been turned on its head in recent weeks, with doctors regularly trotted out to call for calm over confusion.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which has largely taken a mollifying approach to China’s lack of transparency, has called the Chinese government out directly. As many countries such as the United States and Australia introduce new testing demands for Chinese travelers, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said these policies were “understandable” in the “absence of comprehensive information” from China.
The WHO criticized its “narrow” definition of what constitutes a Covid death, as top global health officials urge Beijing to share more data about the explosive spread. “We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is on record saying.
“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease, and death,” he said.
A media report said China “only lists those Covid patients who succumbed with respiratory failure as having died of Covid”. In the two weeks prior to January 5, China reported fewer than 20 deaths from local Covid cases, according to figures released on the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website – even as the outbreak has “overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums” amid apparent Covid surges in multiple cities.
Experts fear that a new variant will emerge from China’s outbreak. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said there is as yet no sign of that so far, but WHO is desperate for more information. Meanwhile, misinformation about the virus is spreading inside China, ranging from government claims that traditional Chinese medicine products can be used for treatment to full-blown conspiracy theories.
The worst of the first wave seems to be peaking in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Both cities are reporting that life is getting back to normal.
But the worry is about the countryside. It has already been hit, with reports admitting high death tolls in some villages and medical personnel working overtime event though they are themselves infected. In normal times, medical services in rural areas are not up to the mark. For instance, beds in critical care wards are much less than in urban areas.
Some media reports say that “although officially the rural population is younger on average, in practice young people decamp to the cities in search of work, leaving villages full of the old and the very young”.
The old and infirm do not fare much better in the countryside. The maximum number of the under-vaccinated people in China live in the rural areas. Many old people refuse to get themselves vaccinated because they are skeptic about the vaccines.
Millions of migrant workers who left the rural areas to cities and towns looking for employment are literally neither here nor there. They lack jobs and even housing in the urban areas. They do not earn much so they cannot eat much. And because of the lockdowns, till recently they could not attempt to return home. And now that the lockdowns are lifted, they look for money to buy their tickets for the return journey.