Chinese hospitals creak under the strain of a huge Covid outbreak

SHANGHAI — Patients are crammed into hallways, stairwells and lobbies, and still the sick keep coming. In scenes reminiscent of the start of the coronavirus pandemic in

2020, Chinese hospitals are struggling to cope with a surge in Covid-19 cases following the country’s decision to scrap its “zero-Covid” policy in early December. Although

the move relaxed three years of strict measures that had set off rare mass unrest, it also unleashed the virus on a population of 1.4 billion people that had been largely shielded

from it. After international criticism that it had not been transparent about the severity of the outbreak, the Chinese government said last weekend that it had recorded 60,000

Covid-related deaths since Dec. 8. But that figure covers only those who have died in hospitals, suggesting the true death toll could be much higher. An estimate on Tuesday

by Airfinity, an independent forecaster based in London, put the number of Covid-related deaths in China since Dec. 1 at 608,000, 10 times the official figure. “Our forecast

estimates a significant burden on China’s health care system for the next fortnight,” Dr. Matt Linley, Airfinity’s analytics director, said, “and it is likely that many treatable

patients could die due to overcrowded hospitals and lack of care.” NBC News witnessed chaotic scenes in overcrowded hospitals in Shanghai, China’s financial center and most

populous city at 26 million people. Less than a year after a grueling two-month lockdown in an effort to stamp out the virus, the city is now experiencing the consequences of

letting it loose.