Preemptive steps key for China’s countryside

Many county hospitals, which serve vast rural regions, are stepping up efforts to provide necessary medical equipment.


A woman receives a booster dose in Chaoyang district of Beijing on July 13, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

December 29, 2022

BEIJING – Rural regions encouraged to shore up medical resources, critical-care beds

Rural regions across China are beefing up their medical treatment capacities and ensuring availability of life support equipment and critical-care beds, as the nation revs up preemptive measures to contain Omicron-fueled outbreaks in the countryside.

A large number of migrant workers are expected to return to their rural hometowns for the Spring Festival holiday in January, which officials and health experts have warned could accelerate the spread of COVID-19 in far-flung villages.

The Chinese New Year travel rush is expected to last 40 days, from Jan 7 to Feb 15, the Ministry of Transport said on Tuesday.

Officials attending a meeting on Saturday on COVID-19 control in rural regions described the Chinese countryside as “vast, populous and thinly resourced”, according to a news release. They agreed that the upcoming mass migration would form a new challenge for the epidemic situation there.

The meeting was attended by officials from the Office of the Central Leading Group for Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and the National Rural Revitalization Administration.

Meeting participants decided that concerted efforts must be made to support the countryside in terms of medications, devices, human resources and funds, and to improve its capacity to address the challenges brought by the epidemic.

Local authorities were also urged to quickly inoculate elderly rural residents and members of other vulnerable groups, and ensure that potential outbreaks do not disrupt the supply of agricultural materials, such as fertilizers.

Many county hospitals, which serve vast rural regions, are stepping up efforts to provide necessary medical equipment.

A hospital in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region’s Huree Banner, where 140,000 out of its 170,000 residents live in villages, announced a contract worth 1.9 million yuan ($272,000) on Monday, seeking bidders to upgrade its wards into intensive care units.

Liancheng County Central Hospital in East China’s Fujian province published an advertisement last week seeking tenders for ambulances and medical devices, ranging from intrusive breathing machines to electrocardiogram monitors.

An announcement made by a hospital in Huailai county, Hebei province, said it needed equipment for its emergency wards, and tenders must be able to supply and set up the devices within 20 days of signing the contract.

The procurement rush by smaller hospitals is part of a nationwide campaign to shore up intensive-care resources in many provinces.

The speedy spread of COVID-19 prompted authorities earlier this month to ramp up construction of ICUs at third- and second-tier hospitals, as well as in hospitals designated for COVID-19 treatment.

At a news conference on Tuesday, health officials said that China had 181,000 critical-care beds nationwide, and 133,400 of them were at third-tier hospitals — the top ones in China’s hospital rating system.

Critical-care beds at third-tier hospitals should account for no less than 4 percent of their total beds by the end of December, according to guidelines on COVID-19 control released earlier this month by the National Health Commission. An additional 4 percent of beds need to be kept on standby for treating critically ill patients, the guidelines said.

On Saturday, Capital Medical University’s Xuanwu Hospital in Beijing said it had upgraded 72 beds in its neurosurgery department into “sub-critical-care beds”, which can be turned into critical-care ones in just three hours. Currently, the hospital has 110 critical-care beds. Many provinces, including Zhejiang and Anhui, hit their targets last week.

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