BEIJING (AP) — Patients, mostly elderly, lay on stretchers in hallways or received oxygen while sitting in wheelchairs as the COVID-19 outbreak strained the resources of public health facilities in China’s capital, Beijing, even after the reported peak.
Chuiyangliu Hospital in the eastern part of the city was full on Thursday with newly arrived patients. Beds ran out by mid-morning, although ambulances continued to bring in more people. Hard-pressed nurses and doctors rushed to gather information and triage the most urgent cases.
The accumulation of people seeking hospital care It follows China’s abandonment of its toughest pandemic restrictions last month after nearly three years of lockdowns, travel bans and school closures that weighed heavily on the economy and sparked unusual street protests in a country that has clamped down on political dissent.
The outbreak appears to have spread most rapidly to densely populated cities first. Authorities are now concerned as it reaches smaller towns and rural areas with weaker health systems. Several local governments began asking people on Thursday to stay home for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, signaling continued anxiety about reopening.
Abroad, a a growing number of governments require virus tests for travelers from China, saying they are necessary because the Chinese government is not sharing enough information about the outbreak. The European Union on Wednesday “strongly encouraged” its member states to mandate pre-departure COVID-19 testing, although not all have done so.
Italy – the first place in Europe where the pandemic took a heavy toll in early 2020 – became the first EU member state to require tests for travelers from China last week, and France and Spain followed suit with their own measures. This followed the US imposition of a requirement for a negative test result within 48 hours of departure.
China criticized the requirements and warned of countermeasures against the countries that impose them.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that he was concerned about the absence data on the epidemic from the Chinese government.
At a daily briefing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Beijing constantly “shares information and data with the international community in an open and transparent manner.”
“Currently, the COVID-19 situation in China is under control,” Mao said. “We also hope that the WHO secretariat will take a science-based, objective and impartial position to play a positive role in dealing with the pandemic globally.”
Local authorities are urging people to avoid travel during the Lunar New Year holiday days before the official lifting of many remaining restrictions – some no longer in place – on Sunday.
“We advise everyone not to return to their hometowns unless necessary during the peak of the epidemic,” the government of Shaoyang County in central China’s Hunan Province said in a statement on Thursday. “Avoid visiting relatives and traveling between regions. Minimize travel.”
Similar calls were issued from Shouxian County in Anhui Province southeast of Beijing and the cities of Qingyang in Gansu Province in the northwest and Weifang in Shandong on the east coast.
The calls, which harkened back to the last few years of strict pandemic restrictions, showed some officials remain nervous about lifting them too quickly.
The Weifang government’s announcement said residents should celebrate the holiday with video and phone gatherings.
“Avoid visiting relatives and friends to protect yourself and others,” it said.
Despite such concerns, Hong Kong has announced it will reopen some of its border crossings with mainland China on Sunday and allow tens of thousands of people to cross each day without being quarantined.
The city’s land and sea border checkpoints with the mainland have been largely closed for almost three years, and their reopening is expected to give a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors.
Associated Press reporters Joe MacDonald in Beijing and Canice Lung in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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