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China’s zero Covid approach, healthcare system and reopening plans

Volunteers in protective gear handle garbage outside an apartment building at the College of Information Arts and Engineering at Dalian Polytechnic University in Zhuanghe University City on November 15, 2021 in Dalian, Liaoning Province of China. More than 60 students from the University Town of Zhuanghe City were diagnosed with COVID-19 cases on Sunday in Dalian.

VCG | China Visual Group | Getty Images

China is moving forward with its zero Covid approach, and there are signs that it won’t give up that position anytime soon, according to U.S. investment bank Jefferies.

From the United States to large parts of Europe and Asia, many countries are learning to live with the virus and have started lifting most restrictions.

Countries initially took an aggressive approach through mass blockades and strict social restrictions, but gradually abandoned this strategy as the highly infectious delta variant spread rapidly and blockades became less effective.

But China has not relaxed its ultra-strict zero-Covid strategy that involves mass lockdowns – even if a single or a handful of cases are detected. It also includes extensive testing, heavily controlled or closed borders, as well as robust contact tracing systems and quarantine warrants.

More recently, visitors to Shanghai Disneyland had to take Covid tests to get out. The demand came after authorities learned that close contacts of an infected person had visited the park the previous week.

‘Closed until further notice’

The Asian giant is now fighting the spread of its biggest Covid outbreak caused by the delta variant, according to Reuters.

“China … appears to have handled COVID very well, but the Delta variant poses new challenges. Besides removing domestic cases, ‘preventing imported cases’ is a key part of the strategy,” Jefferies analysts said. in a note of November 18.

“The result appears to be a country that has no immediate plans to open up and live with the virus. News of the instant lockdowns continues, and it appears China is shut down until further notice.”

Jefferies pointed out three things that suggest China’s lack of immediate plans to move away from its zero-tolerance approach.

1. Passport renewal

Passport renewal data suggests officials are not planning any overseas travel or tourism for some time, Jefferies said. New issues and renewals of Chinese passports fell by more than 95% in the first half of this year, compared to the same period in 2019, the bank said.

“This could indicate that the central government is trying to restrict the ability of people to leave China,” Jefferies said.

The note also highlighted recent comments from China’s National Immigration Administration that said those who do not urgently need to travel overseas should postpone their plans. Issuing or renewing passports would only be a priority for Chinese citizens studying or working abroad, authorities reportedly said.

In comparison, the issuance of passports in the United States decreased 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

Chinese city governments are urged to build 20 rooms for 10,000 citizens in dedicated or converted facilities – to cater for overseas arrivals, according to Jefferies.

Guangzhou is already moving away from hotel use, and a new facility with more than 5,000 rooms is expected to open, with other provinces “quickly following,” Jefferies said.

“The dedicated quarantine facilities under construction suggest that the inbound quarantine may be in place for longer,” Jefferies said.

3. The Chinese health system

The medical infrastructure in China may not be prepared for higher cases if the borders are open, or to treat Covid as endemic, according to Jefferies.

“China has far fewer hospital and doctor beds than many other countries. Its three-tier health system barely survived the first wave of the COVID epidemic in early 2020,” analysts said. .

Its three-tier health system includes city-level hospitals, district-level clinics and rural health services provided by rural doctors, according to Jefferies. The number of hospital and doctor beds in rural areas is less than half that of urban areas, based on 1,000 residents, the report notes.

“Poor medical infrastructure in rural areas makes it more difficult to detect COVID cases at an early stage and therefore leads to widespread epidemics towards cities,” the bank said. With 36% of the Chinese population living in rural areas, “a closed border is the easiest solution to preventing a breakdown in the health care system,” Jefferies said.

In addition, China’s health spending is “considerably” lower than that of many other countries. “This could mean that Chinese authorities fear that a large national epidemic will overwhelm their health system,” the bank concluded.