BEIJING, Feb. 1, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — As media sources around the world have paid so much attention to infection surges in various metropolises or first-and-second-tier cities in China and governments at all levels have attached great importance to anti-epidemic work in rural areas, a review on how numerous small cities in China overcome the infection peak and spent the Spring Festival holidays makes up the final piece of puzzle on how China managed to go through the latest round of infections since its optimization of the policy regarding COVID-19 management.
During this year’s Spring Festival holidays, the Global Times reporters visited several small and mid-sized cities across China and talked to medical professionals serving in various capacities in large- and small-scale medical facilities and local residents to learn more about the epidemic situation in their cities, the preparations made by hospitals to best deal with a surge in infections, and the contingency plans set in place for medical treatments and the ultimate weathering of the COVID wave.
Fighting with surges
Li Sha, a nurse with the pneumology department of the People’s Hospital in the city of Linfen of North China’s Shanxi Province spent most of her Spring Festival holidays working.
"Although the inpatient wards for COVID infections and related pneumonia and other respiratory diseases have reduced from the peak period’s eight wards to four, we 19 nurses were working in three shifts and each one needed to take care of more than 10 patients," said Li.
While many of Li’s friends chose to enjoy the holidays in tourist cities as this was the first Spring Festival during which the government did not encourage people to remain where they were in three years, Li did not even find a chance to have dinner with her 3-year-old son.
Actually, she and other medical staff in Linfen have been kept busy for more than a month as China gradually optimized the management of COVID-19 since mid-December 2022 and infections rapidly increased in this fourth-tier city with more than 3.91 million residents.
Although many infected residents with mild symptoms chose to recuperate at home, the number of patients seeking medical assistance at emergency clinics and getting hospitalized surged suddenly in mid-December. As one of the designated hospitals for COVID-19, the People’s Hospital where Li works had to expand the wards and dispatched doctors and nurses from other departments to assist Li’s pneumology department.
The hospital once ran out of some medicines including ibuprofen but such problems were soon solved with pharmaceutical productivity having been boosted across the country. Patients who get pneumonia caused by COVID-19 infections usually need medical treatment in the hospital for around two weeks and some with severe underlying conditions may stay longer, according to Li.
Before the infection peak, medical staff, especially doctors treating respiratory illnesses in the hospital had regular exchanges with experts from local health authorities and key provincial hospitals. Such exchanges and guidance have only grown stronger since December with a focus on offering early treatment to patients with serious symptoms.
After working like spinning tops for nearly two weeks, Li and other medical staff in the hospital saw a gradual decline in patient numbers. "Some patients with mild symptoms chose to go home for the Spring Festival. Some with basic diseases including tracheitis stayed and have been well taken care of by doctors and nurses who worked as usual," said Li.
A similar decline in patient numbers was also seen in a local hospital in Yichang, Central China’s Hubei Province, as the number of patients visiting the fever clinic has been falling over recent days. The Global Times learned from the hospital that the peak of COVID infections had passed, with the daily patients dropping from about 585 who had fever in mid-December to a handful at present.
"During the peak period, we received about 400 patients every day," a local doctor surnamed Chen told the Global Times.
"There are much fewer patients now than we expected. I think one reason is that those with mild symptoms choose to stay home for recovering instead of going to the hospital," the doctor said.
Also, the clinics in the villages had been preparing for a possible resurgence during the holidays, and planned to transfer their patients to our hospital, Chen noted. "We scheduled sufficient medical staff to receive such patients from the villages, but the situation now is much better than we thought," the doctor said.
Embracing a new year
What happened in Linfen and Yichang – two third-tier cities in China, is a blueprint for what happened in most of cities across China. With the efforts by local governments and medical workers, these cities have managed to go through the infection peak smoothly.
According to data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the recent wave of the COVID-19 epidemic peaked in late December 2022 and then maintained an almost uniform decline across all provinces, which was similar in both urban and rural areas. The number of outpatients, severe cases in hospital, and deaths in hospital were all trending downward. By late January 2023, the overall nationwide spread of the virus had decreased to a lower level, relieving pressure on the country’s medical system.
The decline of infections does not mean the end of anti-epidemic work, especially in small and mid-sized cities as health authorities and public health analysts have warned of potentially more rounds of infection surges that may be caused by new variants.
Li told the Global Times that the hospital has also made some preparations, including storing some necessary medicines and further perfecting tiered diagnosis and treatment. Both hospital and medical staff have gained rich experience in dealing with infection surges.
Uncertainties and worries for the future fade away as hustling and bustling return to small and mid-sized cities. Honking cars can be heard as traffic has now returned to normal, the railway stations near the hospital restarted welcoming people coming back to their hometown and bid farewell to travelers, and the scenic spots in the city and parks were packed with residents who enjoyed leisure time with their loved ones.
Li planned to take her son on a trip outside the province once she got some vacation time so that the boy, who was born at the end of 2019 and had been restricted at home for most of his young life, can have a real adventure out in the real world.
The city of Yichang in Hubei also saw thriving signs after the infection peak. Some local residents in Yichang reached by the Global Times said that during the infection peak – around mid- to late-December, the streets in the city’s downturn area were almost empty as many infected with COVID-19 stayed home for self-quarantine.
"I stayed home for more than a week," a 59-year-old local resident surnamed Wu told the Global Times. "But now, everyone in my family has recovered so we were able to enjoy a happy family reunion."
During the Spring Festival holidays, hundreds if not thousands of visitors swarm the World Peace Park in the downtown area of the city to enjoy the New Year Lantern Festival with their family and friends. Some lanterns representing famous figures such as Wang Zhaojun – one of China’s four ancient beauties – and Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and politician widely known for his patriotism, lit up the city skyline.
Both air and rail passenger numbers surged during the Spring Festival holidays in Yichang. According to local statistics, the Sanxia Airport in the city handled 492 flights during the 7-day period, an increase of 24 percent year-on-year with 51,000 passengers passing through the facility.
Small red lanterns were hung on tree branches across the city, illuminating the dark night sky. They are considered symbols of good luck, bringing happiness and health to the Year of the Rabbit.
"I really enjoy this festive atmosphere which has not been palpable in the last few years," a man surnamed Hou in his 30s told the Global Times at the event. "The normal days are really back," he said.