With China’s strict zero-Covid policy scrapped, the virus has swept through the country, leaving over 50% of the population of Beijing thought to have been infected – and the city’s hospitals are feeling the strain.
A crisis is unfolding in the hospitals of Beijing.
Inside the eastern Chaoyang Hospital, COVID-positive patients fill the wards. Almost everyone is elderly and only the lucky ones have beds. Many more line the hospital floor.
This is clearly a place where the virus is surging, and the system is straining.
Signs of the crisis are also visible outside the hospital, with frequent ambulance arrivals as well as patients brought in wheelchairs.
As families desperately try to get beds for their unwell relatives, one family arriving at the hospital told Sky News: “We’ve been waiting 10 days at least. Almost everyone inside is elderly and infected.”
Previously running a zero-COVID policy, over the last three weeks, almost every restriction has been removed.
People no longer need to scan into public venues with health codes, get regularly tested, or go to a quarantine facility when they catch it. Business travel visas are also set to be eased.
The result has been swift, with over 50% of the population of Beijing thought to have been infected.
China has a large population with low levels of immunity, and a hospital system that is under-resourced with not enough intensive care beds. Combined, this means the healthcare system is under immense pressure.
While official numbers say very few people have died, the reality is clearly different.
A cleaner, speaking to Sky News while on a short break from his shift, said: “They are all lying on the beds. Every day, people die. The corridor is full of people with IV drips.”
Now, as restrictions are wound down, experts say there’s no going back.
COVID-19 expert Professor Dali Yang told Sky News: “China has really embraced an entirely different strategy, with such gusto and the same zeal that they perused zero-COVID.
“The criticism of the current approach is that the authorities had time to prepare – they could have educated the public, they could have taken more measures, including making available basic fever reducers.”
A reopened China without testing and rules is clearly a relief to many, but it’s come at speed – and that’s come with a cost.