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Rural residents worry about the elderly as COVID spreads across China

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By Martin Quin Pollard, Xiaoyu Yin and Tingshu Wang

LEZHI (Reuters) – At a busy village clinic in Lezhi county, in southwest China’s Sichuan province, on Thursday, Yang, 59, waited anxiously as her husband received an intravenous drip in the next room.

For more than a week he has had a fever, chills, cough and other COVID-19-like symptoms, he said, like millions of Chinese caught up in a wave of coronavirus after authorities dismantled zero-COVID policies. this month.

Experts say the elderly in rural areas may be particularly vulnerable due to their reluctance to get vaccinated and inadequate medical resources. Next month’s Lunar New Year festival, when hundreds of millions will travel to their hometowns, will increase the risk.

“I’m worried, I’m scared,” Yang said emotionally between frequent glances at her husband, a construction worker surnamed Xiong. “This is not just a mild illness like they say online.”

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Xiong, who received three injections of China’s domestically produced vaccine, was confident he would feel better soon. But he was worried about reinfection and says things were better before they opened.

“Virtually everyone on my construction site has been infected,” he said. “Since the opening, the virus has spread everywhere.”

Yang and Xiong, like several others interviewed for this article, declined to give their full names, a common practice in China for people who agree to speak to reporters.

Beside Xiong, in the small office-sized treatment room at the Kongque village clinic, four other patients, all but one elderly and all on IVs, lay coughing intermittently.

“It’s a little worse than the original cold,” said Tang Shunping, 80. “I was taking cold and flu supplements and it was fine, but now they don’t work anymore.”

Across the room, 86-year-old Chen Lifen, who suffers from other conditions including heart disease and high blood pressure, was accompanied by her daughter and full-time caregiver, Liao Xiaofeng.

Chen has not been vaccinated. The family was concerned after hearing stories online about possible side effects, Liao said.

Several locals in the area, about 90 minutes east of the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu, said that although the virus was everywhere, it is “as the state says, like a cold”, reflecting the change. recently in messages from the Chinese authorities. .

Chen Changying, a doctor in Yongquan, a small town near Lezhi county, said that since China ended nearly three years of COVID restrictions this month, the number of patients has more than doubled to around 100 a day. .

Most of the patients have the same symptoms that suggest a COVID infection, and most are elderly, he said.

“I’m definitely worried,” the doctor said. “Many older people have underlying illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis, and this virus can easily lead to a lung infection.”

Amid a nationwide wave of infections, which experts say could have reached hundreds of millions, China is scrambling to bolster overwhelmed hospitals and restock pharmacies.

Paxlovid, the COVID drug made by Pfizer, is in particularly high demand, with many Chinese trying to source the drug abroad and ship it to China.

China’s top health body this week instructed local authorities to “promote” and organize traditional Chinese medicine to treat COVID, state media reported on Thursday.

PHARMACY LACK OF MEDICINES

Wang, 57, who has run a Chinese and Western medicine pharmacy in Yongquan with her husband for decades, said the weeks since the reopening have been the busiest they have ever known and medicines are in short supply.

Many people have stockpiled medicine because of the sudden wave of infections, he said.

In Lezhi county, Liao, a farmer with two children whose husband works in a distant province, bought an oxygen concentrator online to help with her mother’s breathing.

Liao does not plan to take her mother to the county hospital or a center in a larger city because she worries that it will be expensive and difficult to see a doctor.

She and others in Lezhi said things were better when the COVID restrictions were put in place.

“It used to be good when the virus was well controlled,” Liao said. “When it was controlled, there was no such phenomenon. Now they don’t handle it anymore, so now all the young and old are getting infected.”

(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Xiaoyu Yin and Tingshu Wang; Writing by Martin Quin Pollard; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Gerry Doyle)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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