China’s health system faces raft of challenges as Omicron hits

A staff member in a protective suit instructs people who are lining up for a throat swab test at a temporary COVID-19 testing center as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Beijing, China, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BEIJING—China is battling its biggest spike in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with millions under lockdown and the healthcare system feeling the pressure.

One of the last countries sticking to a zero-Covid strategy, China aims to stamp out every infection with strict lockdowns and by sending all cases to secure facilities.

That is placing a strain on China’s already under-pressure medical system, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant rapidly moves through the population.

Here are some of China’s key challenges in the fight against Covid:

Vaccination rates

Beijing says more than 1.2 billion people in China had received two doses of a Covid vaccine by mid-March — nearly 90 percent of the population.

It has also launched a booster campaign but more than half of the population has yet to receive a third shot.

A major challenge is protecting the elderly, with only around half of Chinese people aged above 80 double-vaccinated and fewer than a fifth having received a booster.

Among the over-60s, just over half have received a third shot.

Officials have launched a fresh push to encourage older people to get a third dose, after hospitals in Hong Kong were overwhelmed by a wave of severe cases — mostly unvaccinated elderly patients.

China is using homegrown vaccines and has not approved any foreign-made shots, but it has given “conditional” approval to Pfizer’s Covid-19 drug Paxlovid.

Chinese vaccines have shown a lower rate of efficacy in studies compared with many foreign jabs.

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