The Chinese hospital says half of its staff have contracted Covid

Local residents line up to receive medical treatment at the 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 Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine were infected with COVID-19 during the latest wave, said Liu Qingquan, director of the Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Liu told reporters that the workers all recovered by taking traditional Chinese medicine. Of the 1,000 employees who contracted pneumonia, he said, only one developed high blood pressure.

China has encouraged the use of traditional Chinese medicine alongside Western treatment for Covid. Instead of 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 employees fell ill within a week, before recovering. Local authorities said that tens of thousands rushed to fever clinics in one day in Beijing alone.

Liu said that due to the increase in the number of patients, doctors and nurses have not been able to go home for several days. He said that health workers sometimes have to work while they themselves are sick and taking medication.

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

While the situation has eased, “from the hospital’s perspective, our pressure is still very great,” said Wang Guiqiang, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Peking University First Hospital. This is according to CNBC’s translation of his notes in Mandarin.

Wang said the hospital has converted additional wards into intensive care areas, and trained doctors to become ICU nurses.

Pfizer’s Covid-19 drug

In the wake of the recent Covid wave in China, locals have also rushed to stock up on medicine, which led to shortages and long lines outside pharmacies last month.

PfizerWang said that the COVID-19 drug Paxlovid was still in short supply domestically. But he said that the drug will 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 Healthcare Conference, according to a transcript. He said local production could start within three or four months.

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

What China wanted to pay, CEO Bourla said, was “below the lower-middle price bracket” — a range 60% to 70% less than what high-income countries pay.

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

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

He said, without elaborating, that demand for Paxlovid from China rose from a few thousand to millions.

merck Chinese companies are also selling Covid medicines to the domestic market.

Focus on treatment

Since mandatory testing for Covid ended in early December, official numbers of local outbreaks have fallen sharply.

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

It is not clear when these numbers will be available. China said only a handful of the deaths met its criteria for linking them to Covid. Anecdotally, the death toll in the country has risen since December.

“At this time, I don’t think it is necessary to consider each case individually. The priority should be to treat patients,” said Liang Wannian, executive vice dean of the Fanqi School of Public Health at Tsinghua University. This is according to CNBC’s translation of his remarks in Mandarin on Wednesday.

Liang said the country will monitor and report new types of Covid in time. He did not elaborate on the procedures for doing so.

A change in the Covid-related hospitalization or death rate would be the first indication of a new variable, said Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in late December. He said the possibility of a new type of Covid virus emerging in China is low.

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

On Wednesday, Liang said that especially in rural areas, the most difficult stage of the Covid wave in China has gone through.

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

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