Paxlovid: Beijing to distribute Pfizer antiviral drug as Covid wave strains health system


Beijing will start distributing Pfizer’s Covid-19 drug Paxlovide to the city’s community health centers in the coming days, state media reported on Monday.

The report comes as the city grapples with an unprecedented wave of infections that has severely strained its hospitals and emptied pharmacy shelves.

The state-run China News Service reported on Monday that after receiving training, community doctors will administer drugs to Covid-19 patients and give instructions on how to use them.

“We have received notices from officials, but it is unclear when the drugs will arrive,” it quoted a worker at a local community health center in Beijing’s Jicheng District as saying.

Paxlovide is the only foreign drug to treat Covid that has been approved by China’s regulators for nationwide use, but is extremely difficult to access. When a Chinese healthcare platform offered the antiviral drug earlier this month, it sold out within hours.

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Azvudine, an oral drug made by China’s Genuine Biotech, has also been approved.

After nearly three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing, China abruptly abandoned its zero-covid policy this month after nationwide protests over its heavy economic and social toll.

The sudden change in policy has led to panic buying of fever and cold medicines, leading to widespread shortages in pharmacies and online shopping platforms. Long lines outside overflowing fever clinics and hospital wards have become a regular occurrence in the capital Beijing and elsewhere in the country.

On Monday, Chinese state media CCTV quoted President Xi Jinping as saying that as the Covid situation in China changes, the country needs a more targeted health strategy to save lives.

“Xi Jinping stressed that as our country is currently facing a new Covid outbreak situation and new responsibilities, we need to conduct our patriotic health movement in a more targeted manner,” the CCTV report said.

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It was one of Xi’s first public statements on China’s Covid situation since the government’s decision to ease strict restrictions.

A doctor in an emergency room in Beijing told the state-run People’s Daily on Thursday that the four doctors on his shift had no time to eat or drink. “We’re seeing a steady stream of patients,” he said.

Another doctor in the emergency room told the newspaper that he was working despite his feverish symptoms. “The number of patients is high, and the pressure increases with less medical staff,” the doctor said.

In a sign of the pressure on Beijing’s medical system, hundreds of health professionals from across China traveled to the city to support medical centers.

As the capital, Beijing has some of the best medical resources in the country. However, the sudden zero-Covid U-turn left people and health facilities unprepared to cope with the surge in infections.

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China’s official count of Covid cases has become meaningless after it rolled back mass testing and allowed residents to use antigen tests and isolate at home. It stopped reporting asymptomatic cases, acknowledging that it was no longer possible to track the true number of infections.

According to internal estimates by the National Health Commission, about 250 million people in China were infected with Covid in the first 20 days of December – about 18% of the country’s population.

Experts warn that as people in big cities return to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year next month, the virus could spread to China’s vast rural areas, where vaccination rates are low and medical resources are severely lacking.


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