Chinese language hospital says half of its employees have contracted Covid

Locals queue for medical treatment at Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine on June 1, 2022.

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

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

China has promoted the use of traditional Chinese medicine alongside Western treatment of Covid. Instead of pharmaceutical drugs, traditional Chinese medicine relies on medicinal herbs and natural methods to help the body heal itself.

The Omicron variant swept across China in December when authorities abruptly ended most Covid controls. Local businesses reported that the majority of their employees fell ill within a week before recovering. In the city of Beijing alone, tens of thousands of people rushed to fever clinics in a single day, local authorities said.

Because of the surge in patients, doctors and nurses were unable to return home for several days, Liu said. He said health workers sometimes have to work while they themselves are sick and taking medication.

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

Although the situation has eased, “from the hospital’s point of view, our pressure is still very strong,” Wang Guiqiang, director of the infectious diseases department at Beijing University First Hospital, said on Wednesday. This emerges from a CNBC translation of his remarks into Mandarin.

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

Pfizer’s Covid-19 drug

Locals have also rushed to stock up on medicines in the wake of the recent Covid wave in China, leading to shortages and long lines outside pharmacies over the past month.

PfizerThe drug Paxlovid, used to treat Covid, remains in short supply domestically, Wang said. But he said the drug will soon be manufactured in China by a local company.

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

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Paxlovid is only covered by China’s basic national health insurance until March 31, China’s health security agency said on Sunday. The drug couldn’t produce an annual list of insurable drugs because Pfizer charged too high a price, the administration said.

CEO Bourla said what China plans to pay is “below the lowest in the middle” price bracket — a range 60% to 70% below what high-income countries pay.

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

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

Demand for Paxlovid from China has exploded from a few thousand to millions, he said without elaborating.

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

Concentrate on the treatment

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

When asked about Covid deaths, Wang said calculating additional deaths is the best way, such as comparing the numbers to December 2021.

It is not clear how quickly these numbers would be available. China has said only a handful of deaths meet its criteria for being linked to Covid. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the total number of deaths in the country has increased since December.

“At this point in time, I don’t think it’s necessary to investigate each and every case. Treating patients should be a priority,” said Liang Wannian, executive vice-dean of the Vanke School of Public Health at Tsinghua University. That’s according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin language comments on Wednesday.

Liang said the country will be on the lookout for new Covid variants and will report them in a timely manner. He didn’t go into much detail about the procedures for doing this.

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

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

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

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

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