China Restarts Covid-19 Testing in Hospitals, Airports


Official directives highlight the coronavirus as one of several respiratory illnesses ripping through the country.

Authorities in China have started testing people for COVID-19 again in hospitals and transportation hubs as a wave of respiratory disease tears through the country, according to local residents and government directives.

As parents and children continued to flock to pediatric clinics and emergency rooms in Beijing with severe respiratory disease, hospitals are once more performing COVID-19 tests on patients, although there has been little on the news regarding a resurgence of the virus, new variants of which are emerging globally.

Chinese health officials have acknowledged the spike in pneumonia and other respiratory cases, blaming a cocktail of pathogens including mycoplasma pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus, seasonal influenza and COVID-19.

Now, government documents are starting to warn about a new wave of coronavirus infections in particular, with the State Council ordering local authorities to resume testing and disease monitoring at ports and airports, in schools, care homes and other institutions.

“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 Nov. 24 State Council directive warned.

At least 2 million people are estimated to have died when the first wave of Omicron infections swept the country after the lifting of restrictions under ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s “zero-COVID” policy.

Hated tracker app

Unconfirmed reports have been swirling on social media that local governments are starting to reactivate the hated “Health Code” COVID-19 tracker app, which was once used to confine people to their homes or to mass quarantine camps.

“I took my child to hospital to get a nucleic acid test [for COVID-19],” a Beijing resident who gave only the surname Yu for fear of reprisals told RFA Mandarin on Wednesday. “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.”

“It seems that a mutated strain of COVID is back, but the virus isn’t being mentioned on the news,” Yu said. “I can’t figure out what’s happening.”

A health worker waits for people to take swab samples to test for COVID-19 in Shanghai on Dec. 19, 2022. Chinese government documents are starting to warn about a new wave of COVID-19 infections. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

A Beijing resident who gave only the surname Wu for fear of reprisals said some places in the city are offering free COVID-19 tests.

“I heard that they’re not charging now because they want people to cooperate,” Wu said. “They’re testing at the bigger railway stations and international airports and at some conference venues.”

A directive from the Ministry of Education dated Dec. 4 called on schools around the country to take steps to mitigate the wave of “winter disease,” specifically naming COVID-19, which isn’t seasonal.

“According to the judgment of the health and disease control departments, the global COVID-19 pandemic is still under way, and the COVID-19 virus is still mutating,” the directive said.

“This winter and next spring, we may face superimposed epidemics of multiple respiratory diseases,” it warned, citing a State Council ruling on “preventing and controlling new COVID-19 infections.” 

Fearing a resurgence

Health officials have been telling people to wear masks, wash their hands and ventilate indoor spaces to prevent the spread of disease.

A Beijing resident who gave only the surname Zhao said the government seems to fear a resurgence of the coronavirus, adding that many of the cases of “pneumonia” and other respiratory diseases have symptoms that are basically indistinguishable from COVID without a test.

“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.”

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is currently tracking a number of “variants of concern,” including Omicron BA.2.75 that was first detected in India and Omicron XBB.1.5-like (a) that was first detected in the United States.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring a larger number of COVID-19 variants but hasn’t designated any variants of concern.

People queue to buy antigen test kits at a pharmacy amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Xian, in China’s northern Shaanxi province on Dec. 20, 2022. A Beijing resident says some places there are offering free COVID-19 tests to encourage people to get tested. (AFP)

Social media posts showed documents from the 2023 China Textile Industry Federation Science and Technology Awards Conference, which is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Beijing, requiring all participants to present a certificate certifying a negative COVID test dated 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,” Beijing resident Wu said.

Wu said he knows a lot of people who are currently sick, with “a very bad flu.”

“They suspect that maybe it’s COVID, but officials are saying it’s the flu,” he said.

Kids infected

Repeated calls to the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital pediatric clinic, Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital and several other hospitals rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

A kindergarten principal in the central city of Shaoyang who gave only the surname Shao for fear of reprisals said most of the children 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.”

A resident of Hunan’s provincial capital Changsha who gave only the surname Chen said authorities there are also getting ready to start COVID-19 testing again.

“We’re going to start nucleic acid testing again,” Chen said. “Right now, our hospitals are full of kids.”

“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.

Source : RFA