China is scrambling to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases after Beijing's retreat from a zero-COVID policy. With much of the population unvaccinated, there are fears of mutations, high fatalities, and economic upset.
Chinese cities on Tuesday pushed ahead with plans to expand hospital bed capacity and build new clinics amid fears about the virus running wild through the population.
Beijing's abrupt decision to relax stringent COVID-19 measures has raised fears that widespread infections among a largely unvaccinated population could lead to between a million and 2.1 million deaths.
Authorities are expanding intensive care units and, with a view to stopping the spread of the disease in hospitals, building fever screening clinics.
Cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Wenzhou have reported adding hundreds of such clinics in the past week alone, having converted some of them from sports facilities.
After widespread protests against China's strict zero-COVID policy, officials recently abandoned the strategy on a national basis, moving away from lockdowns and mass testing. Several local governments have taken the step of encouraging people with mild coronavirus infections to go to work.
Some experts estimate that some 60% of China's 1.4 billion people — about 10% of the global population — could be infected with COVID-19 in the coming months. There are fears the virus could spread more widely during next month's Lunar New Year holiday when many people travel.
A large proportion of the population is unvaccinated and there is little hybrid immunity from the virus itself. There are 8 million unvaccinated Chinese people over the age of 80, and more than 160 million people have diabetes.
China's National Health Commission on Tuesday reported 2,722 new cases for the previous 24 hours, compared with 1,995 a day earlier.
There was only a slight increase in reported deaths, five in total, taking China's total death toll from COVID-19 to 5,242.
While those figures are relatively low by global standards, it's thought that the actual numbers are far higher. Health authorities in China count only those who died directly from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, excluding deaths blamed on underlying conditions that raise the risk of serious illness.
Unofficial reports from victims' families and people working in the funeral business suggest a widespread wave of new coronavirus fatalities, with reports that crematoriums across the country are at capacity.