Feng Zijian, the former deputy director of China’s Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said, “the peak of the epidemic will bring huge pressure to the medical system”.
Feng told Tsinghua University students last week that COVID was no longer being spread by imported infections from overseas – Beijing’s dominant narrative throughout the pandemic.
In a significant shift in messaging, the senior government advisor said students should now expect to get infected with the milder Omicron strain, but they should no longer fear the virus if they were fully vaccinated.
“This is an inevitable thing that each of us will experience,” he said. “If you are infected by yourself and your dormitory or classmates are also infected, please don’t feel guilty or blame yourself.”
Feng acknowledged the confusion caused by the updated guidelines which have meant that medical workers who have been identified as close contacts have had to go into isolation, triggering staff shortages across the system.
“It is necessary to improve the management mode of the hospital to protect other types of patients who are being hospitalised, and to minimise the pressure on personnel caused by infection of medical staff,” he said.
So far, there have been no public scenes of panic or death, but epidemiologists do not expect the wave to peak until between mid-January and March. Regulators are now racing to get rapid antigen kits onto the market as China’s PCR testing regime is strained by the sudden removal of restrictions. The Beijing Medical Product Administration said on Sunday that it had released 25 million kits to the market in a single day.
Wang Guangfa, a respiratory disease expert from Peking University First Hospital defended the sudden shift away from zero-COVID. The change occurred after a week of widespread protests against the measures and rare public criticism of the Chinese government’s approach.
“Relaxing now is not abrupt,” he told Chinese state media.
Wang claimed officials had waited until Omicron had become far less lethal, guaranteeing “that China will exit the pandemic in a more orderly fashion than what happened in the West”.
But more than 33 per cent of the 264 million people aged over 60 who are not fully vaccinated remain exposed.
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