China’s zero Covid approach, healthcare system, reopening plan

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On November 15, 2021, at the School of Art and Information Engineering, Dalian University of Technology, Zhuanghe University Town, Dalian City, Liaoning Province, China, volunteers in protective clothing dispose of garbage outside the apartment building. As of Sunday, more than 60 students have been diagnosed with COVID-19 cases in the University Town of Zhuanghe City, Dalian.

ECG | Vision China Group | Getty Images

US investment bank Jefferies said that China is advancing its zero Covid approach and there are signs that it will not abandon this position anytime soon.

From the United States to large areas of Europe and Asia, many countries are learning to coexist with the virus and have begun to lift most restrictions.

Countries initially adopted a radical approach through large-scale blockades and strict social restrictions, but as contagious delta variants spread rapidly and blockades became less effective, they gradually abandoned this strategy.

But China has not relaxed its ultra-strict zero coronavirus strategy involving a large-scale lockdown—even if only one or a few cases have been detected. It also includes extensive testing, tightly controlled or closed borders, and strong contact tracing systems and quarantine requirements.

Recently, visitors to Shanghai Disneyland must undergo a Covid test before they can withdraw. The request came after the authorities learned that close contacts of the infected person had visited the park a week ago.

‘Closed until further notice’

According to Reuters, the Asian giant is currently fighting the spread of the largest Covid outbreak caused by the delta variant.

Jefferies analysts stated in a report on November 18: “China… seems to be doing a good job of managing COVID, but the Delta variant brings new challenges. In addition to curbing domestic cases,’prevent ‘Imported cases’ is a key part of this strategy.”

“The result seems to be that a country has no plan to open up immediately and coexist with the virus. News of the rapid lockdown continues, and China appears to have closed until further notice.”

Jefferies emphasized three things, implying that China lacks a plan to immediately get rid of zero tolerance.

1. Passport renewal

Jefferies said the passport update data indicated that the authorities had not planned any outbound travel or tourism for a period of time. The bank said that compared with the same period in 2019, the number of new issuances and renewals of Chinese passports in the first half of this year dropped by more than 95%.

“This may indicate that the central government is trying to limit people’s ability to leave China,” Jefferies said.

The note also pointed out that recent comments issued by the National Immigration Administration of China stated that those who do not have any urgent international travel needs should postpone their plans. According to reports, the authorities stated that only Chinese citizens studying or working abroad will give priority to issuing or renewing passports.

In contrast, the number of U.S. passport issuances dropped by 43% from 2019 to 2020, and increased by 32% in the first half of this year compared to last year.

2. Dedicated quarantine facilities

Jefferies said that Chinese cities’ governments have been told to build 20 rooms for every 10,000 citizens in dedicated or modified facilities to cater to the needs of overseas tourists.

According to Jefferies, Guangzhou no longer uses hotels, a new facility with more than 5,000 rooms is about to open, and other provinces are “quickly following up.”

“The dedicated quarantine facility under construction indicates that entry quarantine may last longer,” Jeffries said.

3. China’s healthcare system

Jefferies said that if the border is opened, or Covid is treated as an endemic disease, China’s medical infrastructure may not be able to cope with higher cases.

Analysts said: “China has far fewer hospital beds and doctors than many other countries. Its tertiary healthcare system has hardly survived the first wave of COVID outbreaks in early 2020.”

According to Jefferies, its tertiary health care system includes rural health services provided by municipal hospitals, district clinics and rural doctors. According to the report, the number of hospital beds and doctors in rural areas is less than half of that in urban areas on a per thousand population basis.

The bank said: “The medical infrastructure in rural areas is weak, so it is more difficult to detect cases of new coronary pneumonia at an early stage, which has caused the epidemic to spread back to the city.” Jefferies said that 36% of China’s population lives in rural areas and “closed” The border is the most direct solution to prevent the health system from collapsing.”

In addition, China’s expenditure on health care is “significantly” lower than many other countries. “This may mean that the Chinese authorities are worried that a large-scale nationwide epidemic may overwhelm their healthcare system,” the bank concluded.

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