As China prepares for its first winter after loosening strict COVID-19 limits almost a year ago, hospitals in Beijing and northern China are dealing with an increase in pediatric respiratory cases.
Numerous children’s hospitals in major cities throughout northern China had hundreds of patients waiting in line for hours to see doctors, as reported by CNN, the Chinese state, and online platforms.
The average number of patients at Beijing Children’s Hospital is currently over 7,000 per day, which an official told state media on Tuesday “far exceeds the hospital’s capacity.” According to a local state-run outlet, the largest child hospital in nearby Tianjin smashed a record on Saturday by receiving almost 13,000 youngsters at its outpatient and emergency departments.
A staff member at Beijing Friendship Hospital told the news channel that it might take the entire day to see a pediatrician when the news organization called on Thursday to find out about appointment times.
There are a lot of children here right now. According to the staff member, those who scheduled an urgent appointment yesterday were still unable to see the doctor this morning.
The primary causes of the outbreak, according to health officials in Beijing and other major northern Chinese cities, were common seasonal illnesses like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), as well as mycoplasma pneumonia, a bacterial infection that usually causes a mild infection and commonly affects children.
The increase in seasonal respiratory infections in the northern hemisphere, including the United States, where RSV is spreading at “unprecedented” rates among youngsters, coincides with the surge in cases in northern China.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO), citing a post from the open-source surveillance system ProMED, expressed concern about the situation in China on Wednesday and asked China to supply additional details on an increase in respiratory diseases and reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children.
However, the WHO said the data showed a rise in hospital admissions and physician visits of children owing to mycoplasma pneumonia in May as well as frequent seasonal illnesses RSV, adenovirus, and influenza virus since October after conferring with Chinese health and hospital officials on Thursday.
As has been observed in other nations, some of these increases are occurring earlier in the season than in previous years, although this is not surprising given the removal of COVID-19 limits, according to the WHO.
According to Chinese authorities, no identification of any abnormal or new pathogens or unusual clinical presentations had been made, the agency continued.
Although there was no proof of a new virus at play, outside specialists keeping an eye on the situation demanded that China provide the public with additional details about the state of affairs.
We don’t believe that an unidentified infection is concealed anywhere, Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, told the news. “There isn’t any proof for that.”
The primary worry, according to epidemiologist Catherine Bennett of Deakin University in Australia, is whether the spike in pediatric pneumonia signals the emergence of a new virus or a new severity of the illness.
Bennett responded, “As of yet, we have not received any reports of either,” stressing the significance of keeping an eye out for infection sources to rule out any worries.
Beijing’s First “Zero-COVID” Regulations
The spike in hospital visits corresponds with China’s first winter without its “zero-COVID” regulations, during which time people were forced to wear face masks and maintain severe social distancing.
Last December, unexpected demonstrations against the tight lockdowns and other pandemic preparations led to a sudden loosening of the rules.
Because China has only provided limited public statistics, it is unknown whether there has been an increase in respiratory diseases or severe instances among youngsters compared to pre-pandemic years.
According to Jin, a virologist at Hong Kong University, during zero-COVID, the frequency of these (common respiratory) infections was low since everyone was avoiding clinics, and the illnesses were underestimated due to social distancing.
It makes perfect sense that there would be a significant increase this year over the previous year. It remains to be seen, though, if this represents a significant increase over 2018 and 2019, he stated.