Chinese hospital says half of its staff have contracted Covid

Residents line up for medical treatment at the Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital in Beijing on June 1, 2022.

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BEIJING — About half of the nearly 2,000 workers at Beijing’s Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital contracted Covid-19 in the latest wave, director Liu Qingquan said Wednesday.

Liu told reporters that the workers all recovered by taking traditional Chinese medicine. He said that of the 1,000 employees infected, only one, who already had high blood pressure, developed pneumonia.

China has encouraged the use of traditional Chinese medicine alongside Western treatment for Covid. Rather than pharmaceutical drugs, traditional Chinese medicine relies on herbal remedies and natural methods to help the body heal itself.

The omicron variant swept through China in December as authorities abruptly ended most Covid controls. Local businesses reported that the majority of their staff fell ill within a week, before recovering. Tens of thousands of people rushed to fever clinics in a single day in the city of Beijing alone, local authorities said.

Due to the increased number of patients, doctors and nurses were unable to go home for several days, Liu said. He said health workers sometimes had to work while they themselves were sick and taking medicine.

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Over the past two weeks, city officials in Beijing and other Chinese urban centers said they had passed the worst of the Covid outbreak.

While the situation has improved, “from the hospital’s perspective, our pressure is still very strong,” said Wang Guiqiang, director of the infectious disease department at Peking University First Hospital, on Wednesday. That’s according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin remarks.

The hospital has turned additional wards into intensive care areas and trained doctors to become intensive care nurses, Wang said.

Pfizer’s Covid-19 drug

Following the latest wave of Covid in China, residents also rushed to stock up on medicines, leading to shortages and long queues outside pharmacies last month.

PfizerThe drug Paxlovid for the treatment of Covid remains in short supply nationwide, Wang said. But he added that the drug would soon be produced in China by a local company.

Pfizer has signed an agreement with a local partner to manufacture Paxlovid in China, CEO Albert Bourla said Monday at the JPMorgan Health Care conference, according to a transcript. He said local production could start in three or four months.

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Paxlovid will only be covered by China’s national basic health insurance until March 31, China’s Health Care Security Administration announced on Sunday. The drug failed to establish an annual list of drugs covered by insurance because Pfizer charged too high a price, the administration said.

CEO Bourla said what China wanted to pay was “below the lowest mid-range price” – a range 60-70% lower than what high-income countries are paying.

“We didn’t agree,” Bourla said. “They are the second highest economy in the world. And I don’t think they should be paying less than [El] El Salvador.”

If the negotiations don’t change the situation by April, Bourla said, “we will continue with the private market in China, which is important.”

Demand for Paxlovid from China has skyrocketed from a few thousand to millions, he said, without giving further details.

Merck and Chinese companies are also selling Covid drugs in the local market.

Focus on treatment

Since mandatory testing for Covid ended in early December, official figures on the local outbreak have fallen sharply.

Asked about Covid deaths, Wang said calculating excess deaths was the best way, such as comparing numbers to December 2021.

It is not known how soon these figures would be available. China has said only a handful of deaths meet its criteria for being linked to Covid. Anecdotes indicate that the total number of deaths in the country has increased since December.

“At this time, I don’t think it’s necessary to review every case. The priority should be to treat patients,” said Liang Wannian, executive vice dean of the University’s Vanke School of Public Health. Tsinghua. That’s according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks on Wednesday.

Liang said the country would monitor new Covid variants and report them in a timely manner. He did not give many details on the procedures to be followed.

A change in the hospitalization or death rate associated with Covid would be the first indication of a new variant, Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said in late December. He said the likelihood of a new variant of Covid emerging in China is low.

The World Health Organization said this week that China is providing more information on the Covid-19 outbreak, but the country is still severely underreporting deaths, according to Reuters.

On Wednesday, Liang said that, especially in rural areas, the most difficult phase of China’s Covid wave has passed.

But he said under China’s latest Covid policy, local authorities facing a large outbreak could still move classes online and limit large gatherings.

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