Beijing to distribute Pfizer antiviral drug as Covid wave overwhelms health system


Beijing
CNN

Beijing will start distributing Pfizer’s Covid-19 drug Paxlovid to the city’s public health centers in the coming days, state media reported on Monday.

The report comes as the city grapples with an unprecedented wave of infections that has emptied its hospitals and pharmacy shelves.

The state-run China News Service reported on Monday that after training, community doctors will administer the drugs to Covid-19 patients and instruct them on how to use them.

“We have received a warning from officials, but it is not clear when the drugs will arrive,” said an official at a local health center in Beijing’s Xichen District.

Paxlovid remains the only foreign drug approved for nationwide use by China’s regulator to treat Covid, but access to it is notoriously difficult. When the Chinese health platform launched the antiviral drug earlier this month, it sold out within hours.

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Azvudine, an oral drug developed by China’s True Biotechnology, has also been approved.

After nearly three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing, China abruptly abandoned its zero-covid policy this month following widespread public protests over its economic and social damage.

The drastic policy change has caused a panic in fever and cold medicines, leading to shortages in both pharmacies and online shopping platforms. It has become common outside fever clinics and hospital wards in the capital, Beijing, and elsewhere in the country.

On Monday, Chinese state media CCTV quoted President Xi Jinping as saying that as China’s Covid situation evolves, the country needs a targeted health strategy to protect lives.

“Xi Jinping stressed that our country is currently facing a new Covid epidemic and new challenges, and we must carry out our health patriotism movement in a targeted manner,” CCTV reported.

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It was one of Xi Jinping’s first public statements about China’s Covid situation after the Chinese government decided to ease strict restrictions.

A doctor at an emergency department in Beijing told the state-run People’s Daily on Thursday that the four doctors on his shift did not have time to eat. “We’re seeing patients all the time,” he said.

Another emergency room doctor told the newspaper that he was still working despite developing fever symptoms. “The number of patients is large, and the pressure is increasing due to the lack of medical staff,” said the doctor.

In a sign of the strain on Beijing’s medical system, hundreds of medical professionals from across China have traveled to the city to help medical centers.

As the capital, Beijing has some of the best medical resources in the country. However, the dramatic zero-covid-19 turn has left people and medical facilities ill-prepared to deal with the surge in infections.

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China’s official Covid case count has become meaningless after it rolled back mass testing and allowed residents to use antigen tests and self-isolate at home. It stopped reporting asymptomatic cases because it was no longer possible to track the true number of infections.

According to an internal estimate by the National Health Commission, nearly 250 million people in China were infected with Covid in the first 20 days of December, which is about 18% of the country’s population.

Experts have warned that when people in big cities return to their hometowns next month for the Lunar New Year, the virus could spread to large rural areas of China, where vaccination rates are low and medical resources are scarce.

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