China’s Covid outbreak appears to be going from bad to worse.
In recent days, local governments have reported hundreds of thousands of infections a day. Sick patients are crowding hospital hallways, videos obtained by The Times showed. In a video from The Associated Press, a medical worker at a hospital in Zhuozhou, a city near Beijing, asked that a patient be taken elsewhere because the facility was out of oxygen.
“China’s medical system is already fragile even in the best of times — people rely on hospital E.R.s for even basic care,” said my colleague Isabelle Qian, who covers China for The Times. “Then, the sudden reversal of China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy caught hospitals off guard.”
The situation is difficult to track in real time because China does not release reliable Covid data. Many experts believe the numbers it does publish are manipulated. But the stories and videos coming out of the country suggest the crisis is worsening.
The rapid spread of Covid in any country is a concern to health officials around the world because unchecked outbreaks create more opportunities for the virus to mutate into a more contagious or deadlier variant. Those fears are particularly acute for China, a country of 1.4 billion people and the place where the virus originated.
China recently relaxed its strict “zero Covid” rules, after unusually widespread protests against the measures. The policies had prevented people from leaving their homes if cases were detected in their area and required regular testing for much of the population. They also forced overseas travelers, including Chinese nationals, to stay in quarantine for as long as two months to enter the country. (That requirement is going away, too, officials said on Monday.)
But the end of the policies exposed two major vulnerabilities that Chinese leaders have not effectively addressed. First, China has not vaccinated large segments of its most vulnerable, older population: While 90 percent of all Chinese were reportedly fully vaccinated as of November, less than 66 percent of those 80 and older were fully vaccinated and only 40 percent had gotten a booster.
Second, China does not have much natural immunity from past Covid waves. Its lockdown policies have kept the virus out of the country, probably saving lives in the short term. But they have also left its population more vulnerable to the disease than those who have been repeatedly exposed to the virus, as this newsletter previously explained.
It’s a sharp contrast to the situation in many other countries. Consider the U.S.: Nearly all Americans 65 and older have gotten a Covid vaccine (although less than 37 percent have gotten the latest booster). Americans have also built up natural immunity from prior Covid waves, providing some protection. That combination has allowed American life to return to some sense of normalcy, without recent years’ levels of hospitalization and death.
Of course, the U.S.’s more lax approach has its own cost: Covid has killed nearly 1.1 million Americans since 2020, according to the C.D.C. China’s strategy has prevented the virus from causing that level of death since it first appeared in Wuhan in late 2019, according to the country’s available data. But without sufficient preparation for the end of “zero Covid,” China is now facing what might be its worst outbreak yet.
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ARTS AND IDEAS
Breakout stars of 2022
This year gave us breakout stars across the world of entertainment. Maya Salam, an editor on The Times’s Culture desk, wrote about seven who captured our attention, including:
Davóne Tines, classical music: Tines, a bass-baritone, made his Carnegie Hall debut with his highly personal, carefully curated program “Recital No. 1: MASS.”
Quinta Brunson, TV: Her show, “Abbott Elementary,” is a warmhearted but not saccharine network sitcom with a pitch-perfect ensemble cast.
Julie Benko, theater: As drama swirled around who would play Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl,” this former understudy seized the opportunity.