China has already prepared for an inevitable spike in deaths related to COVID-19 after cases surged following the rollback of Beijing’s “zero-COVID” policy.
Widespread protests prompted the government to ease the severe restrictions, which many in the country blamed for contributing to the 10 deaths that occurred in a high-rise apartment building fire.
The abrupt change caught China’s health care system unprepared and scrambling to find supplies from beds to drugs to prop up clinics as cases explode.
Major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Wenzhou, have added tens of thousands of fever clinics – temporary attachments to screen for infectious diseases – to hospitals and even sports arenas to help screen residents. Officials stopped reporting asymptomatic figures.
But experts have already predicted that China could see more than a million COVID-related deaths next year. A spike in March of this year peaked at a rolling average of 26,570, while the current wave already peaked at a rolling average of 40,791 cases with a high of 62,439 new cases on Dec. 2, according to Our World in Data.
A Reuters witness saw a line of about 40 hearses waiting to enter a parking lot outside a crematorium to carry away 20 coffins. Staff wore hazmat suits and smoke rose from multiple furnaces, but it remains unconfirmed – though likely – that the deaths resulted from COVID-19.
Some residents have reported waiting days to cremate relatives or needing to pay steep fees to secure a “speedy arrangement.”
WHO Emergencies Director Mike Ryan argued that the virus was already spreading at significant levels before the rollback of “zero-COVID” because “the control measures in themselves were not stopping the disease.”
Part of the difficulty lies in the lack of significant vaccinations in China. Prior to December, China administered only 100,000 to 200,000 doses a day. That number surged to more than 1.43 million on Dec. 13 alone.
China refused for years to adopt vaccines from the West, relying instead on the Sinopharm vaccine that doesn’t use the mRNA model, which introduces a template for cells to produce antigens without exposing someone to the actual virus. The newer vaccines also allow for quicker scaling and faster production compared to older vaccine models.
And after much delay and deliberation, China approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use, with the first batch sent out Wednesday. No details on the size or timing of the delivery were available.
The vaccine is only available for Germans living in China, but Beijing will consider using the vaccine for Chinese nationals as well. Around 20,000 Germans live in the country. Chinese citizens in Germany will be able to receive China’s SinoVac in exchange.
Fox News Digital’s Bradford Betz and Reuters contributed to this report.