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China boosts bed spaces as outbreak spreads

BEIJING (AFP) – China has moved to free up hospital beds as officials yesterday reported thousands of new cases from an Omicron-led coronavirus outbreak that has put millions under lockdown and raised fears for the health system.

The country recorded 3,290 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, including 11 severe cases.

The total was down on Tuesday’s count of more than 5,000, but the highly transmissible variant is posing the sternest challenge yet to China’s ‘zero-Covid’ strategy to contain the pandemic.

China has not officially reported any Covid-related deaths for over a year. Under strict protocols, the country previously sent all patients with any symptoms to specialist hospitals.

But a steep jump in cases, which has led to the 17.5 million residents of the southern tech hub of Shenzhen being locked down and restrictions imposed on Shanghai and other cities, has driven concerns over looming bed shortages.

The National Health Commission late on Tuesday said patients with mild COVID cases could isolate at a central quarantine facility to ease pressure on hospitals.

“Patients with Omicron variant strains are mainly asymptomatic infections and mild cases, most of them do not require serious treatment,” the health authority said. “All admission to designated hospitals will take up a lot of medical resources.”

Images of patients lying on gurneys outside hospitals in Hong Kong, where hospitals have been overrun by a surge in cases, have spooked mainland officials, who are now also rushing to build makeshift hospitals in some provinces.

Health workers assist people going for COVID-19 swab tests in Shenzhen, southern China’s Guangdong. PHOTO: AP
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