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How the Chinese are coping with the spread of covid-19

Jayonly a few A few months ago, the Chinese had little fear of contracting covid-19. The government’s ‘zero covid’ measures have largely kept them safe. Mass testing and strict lockdowns contained the virus. If someone tests positive, the government intervenes. Infected people are taken to state-run quarantine centres. If they have symptoms, they will be treated in designated hospitals. Health workers would douse their homes with disinfectant and test their neighbors.

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That all changed on Dec. 7, when the central government largely abandoned its zero-infection policy and lifted most restrictions. Six days later, it scrapped an app that tracked people’s movements. Highly transmissible variant of Omicron makes zero covid unsustainable.

Now, the public is expected to fend for itself. “Be the first to take responsibility for your own health,” writes People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party. Some residents in Beijing have received letters from local committees that are used to enforcing coronavirus control measures. Stop reporting fevers and coughs to us, someone reads it, and good luck to people. “Thank you for your support and understanding over the past three years.”

Official numbers of new cases are falling, as if the virus were fading. But official figures are no longer reliable as the government scales back testing. If it had another way to keep tabs on the pandemic, it wouldn’t share it.

Still, it’s clear that a coronavirus wave is building as people share stories of infection online. An informal survey was circulating on social media asking Beijing residents if they had contracted the virus.as economist At press time, 39 percent of the roughly 434,000 respondents agreed.

Surveys like this are staggering, not just the numbers. People infected with covid were stigmatized a few months ago. For example, it may be difficult for them to find a job after recovery. The disease is now so common that people post their test results on social media, often replacing the word “positive” with a cartoon sheep (the Chinese word for positive). Others shared light-hearted advice on the best time to catch the coronavirus. For example, infections now or in early January may clear up in time to allow people to enjoy Christmas and Chinese New Year at the same time. “Why am I not active yet?” a young woman complains in one video.

Others, though, are concerned. Until recently, the government did not tell people that people were afraid of COVID-19. The official line now is that Omicron is no worse than the flu. Infected people who are not showing severe symptoms are encouraged to stay home and treat themselves. Not everyone is listening. Emergency call operators in Beijing receive more than 30,000 calls a day, about six times the average. Queues have appeared outside fever clinics in many cities. Some medicines are in short supply. On Dec. 13, a healthcare website began selling Paxlovid, a highly potent antiviral drug used to treat covid. Its initial stock sold out within half an hour.

Hospitals are under increased pressure as doctors and nurses contract the virus. There have been reports that some medical staff who tested positive were called in anyway, which could increase the risk of transmission within the hospital. As of Dec. 13, there were 50 critically ill patients in Beijing, according to official figures. So far, the health system does not appear to be overwhelmed. But the peak of this wave is still some distance away. Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, said it could appear in late January, at least in Beijing.

As the government changes its message, people are looking elsewhere for guidance. Overseas Chinese students who have experienced COVID-19 are sharing advice on the social media app WeChat. They tell people what symptoms to expect and how long they may last. But in general, useful information about the virus is lacking. There have been reports of people seeking medical attention after taking too many fever-reducing medications. Herbal remedies used to fight covid are popular, although doctors doubt their effectiveness.

Vaccines, not witchcraft

At least people now see the need to protect themselves from a virus that was once seen as a dire but distant threat. More people are being vaccinated. The number of vaccines given per day has increased from less than 200,000 to more than 1 million. But much remains to be made, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable. Only about 40 percent of people over the age of 80 have received the three doses needed to significantly reduce the chance of severe illness or death. However, some older adults have struggled to get vaccinated due to insufficient supply at clinics.

People are also taking steps to help mitigate the spread of the disease and possibly reduce the pressure on hospitals. In Beijing, malls and streets were largely empty as people stayed inside. Call it a self-imposed blockade.daredevils wear no95 masks (good at filtering small particles in the air). Demand for home delivery of meals and groceries has surged.

But people are still planning to return to their hometowns for the New Year in late January. Data from booking platform Ctrip shows flight searches have jumped 160% since the government eased restrictions. Searches for train tickets on the search engine Baidu have grown nearly 600 percent during this period. Unfortunately, many rural areas are unprepared for a surge in cases.

As the wave nears its peak, “it would make a lot of sense to resume some public health measures,” Mr Cowling said. But it will be hard to justify changing course if the government doesn’t admit it made a mistake.

Subscribers can sign up to our new weekly newsletter, The Drum Tower, to learn how the world shapes China — and how China shapes the world.

All of our stories related to the pandemic can be found in our Coronavirus Hub.

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