“People don’t go out and my friends are afraid to go down,” he said. “It took me seven or eight days to recover before I dared to go down for a walk.”
A clinical virologist at the University of Hong Kong, Dr. Siddharth Sridhar said that China’s Kovid peak is still ahead and may not be clear for a while, especially among older people, as the full impact of the severe disease takes time to emerge.
“It’s usually the younger, more mobile population that gets infected first,” he said. “Then he goes to nursing homes and does most of his damage here.”
Sridhar, Owens and many other experts say “zero Covid” is the right strategy for China at the start of the vaccine-free pandemic. But the country has struggled to move away from it, largely due to low vaccination rates among its elderly population, and then abruptly lifted restrictions after protests. Without a controlled transition, there was no time to increase vaccines, strengthen critical care infrastructure, or expand the availability of antiviral therapies like Paxlovid.
According to Sridhar, the result will be fatal.
“This basically means there will be a huge epidemic, a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life,” he said.
Xie Zhicong, a resident of Wuhan, said that everyone in his family was infected, except for himself and his grandmother.
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 because they all had positive symptoms,” he said.
The hospital that Xie visited did not respond to requests for comment on his allegations. A pharmacist who reached a different Wuhan hospital declined to comment on the record.
Xie said that the recovered people are looking at life after three years of “zero Covid” restrictions.
“Some of my friends are already buying tickets for the Lunar New Year trip to Thailand,” Xie said, referring to China’s biggest holiday of the year, which falls on January 22 in 2023.
Travel services companies say international flight bookings on their websites have increased since China said on Tuesday that it would continue to issue passports for tourism for the first time since the outbreak began.
While many countries in places like Southeast Asia and Europe are looking forward to the return of high-spending visitors from China, the world’s largest foreign tourism market before the pandemic, some of the top destinations for Chinese travelers – including the United States, Japan, and South Korea – are made the Kovid test mandatory for those coming from the country.
Chinese state media has criticized the restrictions as “discriminatory”, while the European Union health agency said on Thursday the additional measures were “unjustified” for travelers arriving from China. GISAID, a public database based in Germany, said that analysis of the latest genomic sequencing data shared by Chinese health officials this week shows that variants in China are very similar to those already circulating globally.
Sridhar said that although China had a major epidemic, as at the beginning of the pandemic, when the virus is over, the virus will not have much room to go.
“This may be the last act of the pandemic in a way.”
Eric Baculinao and Hannah Lee contributed.