China pushes vaccination drive as Covid-19 cases surge

President Xi Jinping is holding an emergency meeting this week

Residents line up outside a pharmacy to buy Covid-19 test kits in Nanjing, eastern China. Reuters
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China is scrambling to contain a surge in cases of Covid-19, vaccinating more than 1.4 million people on Wednesday.

The vaccine drive will focus on the elderly, who form the majority of the 10 per cent of Chinese who remain unvaccinated.

This comes weeks after the country drastically changed its strict “zero-covid” policy.

China was the last major economy in the world to lift most restrictions to contain the virus, keeping in place a strategy of weeks-long lockdowns of entire districts of the country’s most populous cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing.

These draconian measures sparked rare street protests last month, leading the government to ease restrictions — which in some cases involved locking residents and workers in apartment blocks and factories.

There had also been growing calls for Beijing to ease measures due to the economic impact.

China’s property and construction sector, which accounts for 30 per cent of GDP, contracted by 10 per cent this year.

But despite speculation that the end of zero covid had caused the recent surge in cases of the coronavirus, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday that they had been rising sharply even before the policy eased.

President Xi Jinping is holding an emergency summit, when analysts expect he may introduce economic stimulus measures.

WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan said Covid-19 the number of infections was soaring in China well before the government's decision to phase out its stringent regime.

“There's a narrative at the moment that China lifted the restrictions and all of a sudden the disease is out of control,” Mr Ryan said.

“The disease was spreading intensively because I believe the control measures in themselves were not stopping the disease.”

China's National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said on Wednesday it was necessary to accelerate the promotion of vaccinations, reported state media.

The latest official data shows China administered 1.43 million Covid-19 doses on Tuesday — well above rates in November, which stood at around 100,000 to 200,000 a day.

In total, China has administered 3.45 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

But citing low elderly vaccination rates, one Shanghai care home said on Wednesday it was barring visitors and non-essential deliveries, as well as stockpiling medicines, tests kits and protective gear.

“We are racking our brains on how to ensure the safety of your grandparents,” the Yuepu Tianyi Nursing Home wrote in a letter posted on its official WeChat account page.

Beijing has been largely resistant to western vaccines and treatments, having relied on locally made drugs.

Pfizer's Paxlovid is one of the few foreign Covid-19 treatments that China has approved.

Paxlovid has only been available in hospitals for high-risk patients, but signs have appeared in recent days that it may soon be more widely available.

Stock for China Meheco Group jumped in value after the Chinese distributor of pharmaceutical products announced on Wednesday a deal to import and distribute the US drug company's oral treatment.

Updated: December 15, 2022, 1:28 PM