In early December, as fears of a new wave of COVID-19 rose, Beijing revived testing procedures in some hospitals and transportation hubs. Such actions have driven more worries by the Chinese populace, who were already suffering from cases of sickness.
Chinese health officials reported a spike in “pneumonia and other respiratory cases,” with documents from the government warning citizens of a new wave of COVID-19 infections running rampant across the country, Radio Free Asia (RFA) wrote.
The State Council also requested authorities to continue testing and monitoring at centers of transportation, schools and other places.
“All localities should strengthen prevention and control in elderly care, childcare, schools, social welfare and other institutions as well as confined spaces, and urge daily protection and health monitoring,” a directive by the State Council on Nov. 24 read.
There are reports that some places in Beijing are offering free COVID-19 tests, but as resident surnamed Wu heard, they are only testing the waters in the transportation hubs.
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“I heard that they’re not charging now because they want people to cooperate,” Wu believes.
Following this movement for testing, health officials have also warned people to “wear masks, wash hands and ventilate indoor spaces” to curb the spread.
“It seems that a mutated strain of COVID is back, but the virus isn’t being mentioned on the news,” a resident in Beijing, with the surname of Yu, told RFA Mandarin on Dec. 6. “I can’t figure out what’s happening.”
Beijing resident Zhao claimed that the government fears a resurgence of the virus, with the many cases of “pneumonia” and other diseases possessing similar symptoms with those of COVID-19. This cause for concern comes months after China lifted the requirements of a negative test result for incoming overseas travelers into the mainland.
“The propaganda is saying that these cases are caused by mycoplasma pneumonia, yet I also heard that the [SARS-CoV2] virus has mutated,” Zhao said. “I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know exactly which disease it is.”
According to documents from the 2023 China Textile Industry Federation Science and Technology Awards Conference — which was held on Dec. 6 in Beijing — shared on social media, participants were required to show a certificate proving they had a negative COVID test the day before.
“For a conference starting on Dec. 6, they want a test dated Dec. 5, and they’re not letting anyone in without a health clearance certificate,” resident Wu said, adding that officials are alleging that those who are ill are just suffering from the common flu instead of COVID-19.
However, news and coverage about a possible resurgence and new variants of the virus has been minimal, leaving many to question China’s ability to handle it.
“It seems that a mutated strain of COVID is back, but the virus isn’t being mentioned on the news,” resident Yu said. “I can’t figure out what’s happening.”
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Children at risk
Children are being rushed to hospitals and clinics with cases of respiratory disease. One kindergarten principal, with the surname Shao, said that most kids are sick with “fever.”
“A lot of kids are infected,” Shao said. “In one class, only three kids turned up for school, and the rest were off sick.”
Calls are flooding medical centers like Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital, the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital pediatric clinic and other hospitals that are reportedly not answering multiple calls during office hours.
With parents sending their children for treatment, hospitals are going back to using COVID-19 tests on their patients, which includes nucleic acid tests.
“I took my child to hospital to get a nucleic acid test [for COVID-19],” resident Yu said. “My daughter had been for emergency treatment at the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital pediatric department, and after triage… she was told to get a nucleic acid test.”
Another resident, surnamed Chen from the provincial capital of Changsha in Hunan, said that authorities were also preparing to start testing again.
“The directive has already come through — people in the government are saying that it’s better to rely on just testing [as opposed to other restrictive measures],” he said.
“The thing I fear most is another lockdown,” he added.
Return of ‘Health Code’ app
There have been unconfirmed reports on social media about the reactivation of the controversial “Health Code” tracker app, which was used during the “zero-COVID” days to trap people indoors. Local governments in Sichuan and Guangdong are said to have brought back the app.
A news report covering investigations into the claims has been deleted by national censors, but was able to share that the Tianfu Health Pass app in Sichuan was showing a green code, as residents checked the app.
“The outbreak in Sichuan is particularly serious — the hospital corridors are full of patients,” Sichuan resident Jiang said. “A lot of people can’t even get admitted to hospital.”