Beijing will start distributing Pfizer’s COVID-19 drug Paxlovid to community health centers in the city 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 overwhelmed its hospitals and emptied pharmacy shelves.

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

“We have received notification from the authorities, but it is not clear when the medicines will arrive,” said an official at a local community health center in Beijing’s Xicheng district.

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Paxlovid remains the only foreign drug to treat Covid that has been approved by China’s regulator for domestic use, but access is extremely difficult to obtain. When a Chinese health platform offered the antiviral drug earlier this month, it sold out within hours.

Azvudine, an oral drug developed by Genuine Biotech of China, has also been approved.

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

The abrupt change in policy sparked panic buying of cold and fever medicines, leading to widespread shortages both at pharmacies and online shopping platforms. Long queues have become routine outside fever clinics and hospital wards packed with patients in the capital Beijing and other parts of the country.

On Monday, Chinese state media CCTV quoted President Xi Jinping as saying the country needed a more targeted health strategy to protect people’s lives as the Covid situation in China changes.

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

It was one of the first public statements Xi has made about the Covid situation in China since the government’s decision to ease its tight restrictions.

An emergency room doctor in Beijing told the state-run People’s Daily newspaper on Thursday that four doctors on his shift had not had time to eat or drink. “We’ve been seeing patients non-stop,” he said.

Another emergency room doctor told the newspaper that he was working despite having developed symptoms of a fever. “The number of patients is high and, with less medical staff, the pressure multiplies”, said the doctor.

In a sign of the strain on Beijing’s medical system, hundreds of health workers from across China have traveled to the city to help medical centers.

As the capital, Beijing has some of the best medical resources in the country. However, the abrupt zero-Covid turnaround has left people and health facilities ill-prepared to deal with a surge in infections.

China’s official COVID case count became meaningless after it rolled back mass testing and allowed resideeeeeeeeeents to use antigen tests and self-isolate at home. He stopped reporting asymptomatic cases, admitting that it was no longer possible to track the actual number of infections.

According to an internal estimate by the Naaaaaaaaaational Health Commission, nearly 250 million people in China contracted Covid in the first 20 days of December – accounting for about 18% of the country’s population.

Experts have warned that as people in big cities return to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year next month, the virus could spread across China’s vast rural areas, where vaccination rates are lower and medical resources available. are extremely scarce.

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