The coronavirus is spreading like wildfire in China after the government suddenly lifted critical measures of its zero-COVID policy. While that has been a quick response to the protests in late November, it is apparent that Beijing has not executed a good preparation plan.

Consequently, the Chinese are in fear of being infected with COVID.

A Shanghai woman told Nikkei, “Policy changes without notice make us unable to keep up.” She is currently buying food and other goods online to reduce the risk of infection.

In addition, shopping malls in Shanghai were almost empty, a rare sight during holidays as people rush to buy medicine regardless of their health condition.

A doctor at a private clinic said that nearly half of the 50 patients examined on December 14 had no COVID symptoms but still required medication. He said, “I couldn’t turn them down because people were very nervous.”

Masks have also become items that many hoards and have reportedly been out of stock.

As China Business News reported, the price of N95 masks on the market has reportedly increased by 4 or 5 times. It is presently sold for 5 or 6 yuan apiece, or less than $1.

When searching for N95 masks on major e-commerce platforms, prices are varied due to different qualities. For example, one box of 50 masks costs 275 yuan, and a box of 100 masks costs 470 yuan, or $67.

China is facing a shortage of medicine, and the price is soaring, too. 

An employee at another Beijing pharmacy said her store had run out of cold and fever medicines.

She exclaimed, “Some of them, unfortunately, took much more than they needed. It could be enough for a year!”

So people turned to traditional medicine, making it run out too.

Xuehua News reported that at the end of November, some pharmacies sold Lianhua Qingwen capsules at 46 yuan ($6.60) per box, an increase of 50%.  

Yang, a Beijing resident, said that he visited five drug stores in Chaoyang District and Haidian District but failed to purchase the medicine because all of them had sold out. At the 6th store, the medicine was still available but at the very high price of 150 yuan ($22) a box.

In some local pharmacies, Lianhua Qingwen is bundled with other medicines, with the price ranging from $58 to $128. Such bundle sales phenomenon is also seen in different places, such as Liaoning and Tianjin.

Similarly, the price of an antigen kit has almost tripled to 7 yuan ($1), with some merchants selling one for 10 yuan ($1.50) on social platforms.

Yu Gang, the co-founder and executive chairman of Chinese pharmaceutical company 111, told CNBC that factories could not keep up with the unusually rapid increase in drug demand.

Since the end of November, orders for fever-reducing products and other related drugs have increased tenfold. 

Along with the high demand for fever medication, canned yellow peaches have recently been labeled as “relieving the symptoms of patients with COVID.” The item is currently out of stock in many online shops.

As CNN Business reported, Dalian Leasun Food clarified in a Weibo post that canned yellow peaches have no medicinal value.

Not yet over, the demand for lemons has surged in China as Chinese are rushing to buy lemons to boost their immune systems against COVID.

Liu Yanjing, a resident from Sichuan, told the South China Morning Post that the price of lemons tripled to 6 yuan (90 cents) for 500 grams, from 2 or 3 yuan (30 to 40 cents) per kilo. 

Wen, a farmer, said that his sales have skyrocketed, reaching 20 to 30 tons a day. Compared to a usual day, the sales of lemons at Wen’s farm were only 5 or 6 tons daily.

However, Bloomberg reported that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of vitamin C to treat or prevent Covid.

Why are Chinese people so fearful of getting sick?

A remarkable reason is that hospitals and medical clinics have been overwhelmed by the influx of patients and have run out of medication.

A doctor identified as Li from a Sichuan hospital told Reuters, “Our hospital is overwhelmed with patients. There are 700 or 800 people with fever coming every day. We are running out of medicine stocks for fever and cold, and now wait for delivery from our suppliers.”

Dr. Li added that protective gadgets have been running scant in his hospital, estimating that many staff members would soon contract the virus.

In fact, hospitals urged infected medical workers to continue serving if the infection is asymptomatic or mild. 

Da Ji Yuan cited a department director of a Beijing hospital who said that some inpatient departments are already suffering medicine shortages since fever cases have increased, overflowing fever clinics. His hospital operation had been affected due to the home isolation of medical staff and employee reduction. 

He added that 70% of the doctors and nurses in his department had been infected, and some of them were on duty with sickness.

As the BBC reported, Chinese expert Chen Xi from Yale University has contacted multiple healthcare directors and staff in China. They confirmed health workers were working despite their COVID infection. 

Ms. Liang lives in Hebei and works in Beijing and said that there are no medical treatments or simple medicines to lower fever for mild cases. If someone has serious symptoms and he calls the emergency hotline 120, no one will show up. If the family sends him to the hospital, the hospital won’t take him in because there’s insufficient space. So they have to take him home and watch him die.

In fact, these days, so many Chinese people pass away that funeral homes are overcrowded.

For instance in Beijing, with 12 funeral homes and about 90 incinerators in Beijing, they are able to process more than 4,000 corpses every 24 hours. 

However, relatives had to wait nearly a week to cremate the bodies of their family members.

As Radio Free Asia reported on December 14, the funeral home employee stated that the cremation appointments are scheduled a week in advance, and that period is extended. A staff in Beijing Tongzhou Funeral Home said that a six-day appointment is required for the cremation of the remains coming from funeral homes.

Meanwhile, a recording of employees of the Beijing Babaoshan Funeral Home revealed that the funeral home is currently too busy and almost paralyzed because so many people have died. 

The question is, how long will this bad situation last?

Jennifer Bouey, Director of China Policy Research at RAND Corporation, told Voice of America in Chinese language  that many epidemiological models indicate that the current outbreak in China will be a “tsunami” to last for many months.

The Economist also released a model that predicted that if the CCP abruptly withdrew its Zero-COVID policy, 1.5 million Chinese people would die.

In the worst-case scenario, about 96% of China’s population will be infected with COVID within the next three months, of which people over 60 will account for 90% of the deaths.

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