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Shanghai hospital warns of catastrophe as COVID spreads

A Shanghai hospital has told its staff to prepare for a “tragic battle” with COVID-19 as it expects half of the city’s 25 million people will get infected by the end of next week, while the virus sweeps through China largely unchecked.

After widespread protests and a relentless rise in cases, China this month took an abrupt shift in policies and began dismantling its “zero-COVID” regime, which has taken a great financial and psychological toll on its 1.4 billion people.

As it stands, China’s official death count since the pandemic began three years ago stands at 5,241 a fraction of what most other countries faced.

China reported no new COVID-19 deaths for a second consecutive day for December 21, even as funeral parlour workers say demand has jumped in the past week, pushing fees higher.

Authorities who have narrowed the criteria for COVID deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts confirmed 389 306 cases with symptoms.

Some experts say official figures have become an unreliable guide as less testing is being done across China following the easing of restrictions.

The Shanghai Deji Hospital, posting on its official WeChat account late on Wednesday, estimated there were about 5.43 million positives in the city and that 12.5 million in China’s main commercial hub will get infected by the end of the year.

The post was no longer available on WeChat by Thursday afternoon. A person who answered the hospital’s mainline said they could not immediately comment on the article.

Experts say China could face more than a million COVID deaths next year, given relatively low full vaccination rates among its vulnerable elderly population.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters the agency needed more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for intensive care units for a comprehensive assessment.

China’s policy U-turn caught a fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs and authorities racing to build special clinics.

State media said local governments were trying to tackle drug shortages, while pharmaceutical companies were working extra time to boost supplies.

While some Chinese experts predict the COVID wave will peak in late January, with life likely to return to normal by late February or early March.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas