“People don’t go out and my friends are afraid to come down,” he says. “I also had to recuperate for seven or eight days before I dared go down for a walk.”
The peak of Covid in China is yet to come, and as serious illness takes time to develop, the full impact of the outbreak may not be clear for some time, especially among the elderly, the official said. Dr Siddharth Sridhar, clinical virologist at the University of Hong Kong.
“It’s usually the younger, more mobile population that gets infected first,” he said. “Then it goes into nursing homes, and that’s where it does the most damage.”
Sridhar, Owens and many other experts say “zero-Covid” was the right strategy for China at the start of the pandemic, when vaccines were not available. But the country struggled to move away from it largely because of low vaccination rates among its elderly population, then lifted restrictions with a bang after the protests. Without a controlled transition, there was no time to increase vaccinations, bolster critical care infrastructure, or expand the availability of antiviral treatments like Paxlovid.
The result will be deadly, according to Sridhar.
“That means there’s going to be basically a very large outbreak, a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life,” he said.
Wuhan resident Xie Zhicong said he and all his family members except his grandmother had been infected.
Xie, a 25-year-old salesman, said it was difficult to see a doctor when he went to the hospital for a checkup last week.
“There were no doctors or nurses there because they were all showing positive symptoms,” he said.
The hospital Xie visited did not respond to requests for comment on her claims. A pharmacist contacted at another hospital in Wuhan declined to comment on the case.
People who have recovered, Xie said, are looking to life after three years of “zero-Covid” restrictions.
“Some of my friends are already buying tickets for a Lunar New Year trip to Thailand,” Xie said, referring to China’s biggest holiday of the year, which in 2023 falls on January 22.
Travel service companies say international flight bookings on their websites have increased since China announced on Tuesday it would resume issuing tourism passports for the first time since the pandemic began.
Although many countries in places like Southeast Asia and Europe are eager to see the return of top-spending visitors from China, which was the world’s largest outbound tourism market before the pandemic, some of the Main destinations for Chinese travelers, including the United States, Japan and South Korea – have made Covid tests mandatory for arrivals from the country.
Chinese state media called the restrictions “discriminatory”, while the European Union health agency said on Thursday that additional measures for travelers from China were “unjustified”. GISAID, a public database based in Germany, said this week that analysis of the latest genomic sequencing data shared by Chinese health authorities showed that the variants in China closely resemble those already circulating around the world.
Although China is experiencing a massive outbreak like it did at the start of the pandemic, once it is over the virus won’t have many places to go, Sridhar said.
“This could be the last act of the pandemic in a way.”
Eric Baculinao and Hannah Lee contributed.