Residents lined up at hospitals and pharmacies, seeking help for fevers and buying at-home tests after the government’s decision to ease its “zero Covid” policy.
At a hospital in the affluent Beijing district of Chaoyang, close to 100 people lined up outdoors in near-freezing weather on Friday at a clinic designated for fever patients. Some residents flocked to pharmacies, buying up dwindling stocks of at-home antigen coronavirus test kits and herbal medicines. Many chose to stay home, leaving the capital’s usually busy streets quiet except for the puttering of motorbikes driven by food delivery workers.
Beijing is bracing for a surge in coronavirus cases, as extensive controls that had kept the virus at bay for nearly three years have been abruptly abandoned this week after China rolled back its strict pandemic policy.
Across the country, officials have been scrambling to protect hospitals from being overwhelmed as more people become infected. At many of Beijing’s hospitals, health workers screen people who show up with fevers to identify those who are seriously ill and send home those with milder symptoms.
Part of the challenge for the ruling Communist Party is that less than 1 percent of people in China have had Covid through November, and so many are vulnerable to infection. The general public has also been told by state media for nearly three years that the virus leads to severe illness and death, a justification for the lockdowns and mass quarantines that set off widespread protests last month in a rare challenge to the government.