Chinese authorities are going door-to-door and paying people over 60 to get vaccinated against Covid-19. But even as cases rise, Li Liansheng, 64, said her friends are alarmed by stories of fever, blood clots and other side effects.

“When people hear about such incidents, they may not be willing to take the vaccines,” said Li, who had been vaccinated before catching Covid-19. A few days after her 10-day bout with the virus, Li has a sore throat and a cough. He said it was like a “normal cold” with a low fever.

China has joined other countries in handling cases rather than trying to eradicate transmission of the virus, eliminating or easing rules on testing, quarantines and movement as it tries to reverse an economic crisis. But the move has flooded hospitals with feverish, panting patients.

The National Health Commission announced a campaign on November 29 to increase the vaccination rate among older Chinese, which health experts say is crucial to averting a health crisis. It is also the biggest hurdle before the ruling Communist Party can lift the last of the world’s strictest anti-virus restrictions.

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China has kept the number of cases low for two years with a “zero-Covid” strategy that has sealed off cities and confined millions of people to their homes. Now, as it retreats from that approach, it faces the widespread outbreaks that other countries have experienced.

The health commission recorded just six deaths from Covid-19 this month, bringing the country’s official toll to 5,241. This is despite multiple reports of families of relatives dying.

China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official Covid-19 toll, a health official said last week. This extraordinarily narrow definition excludes many deaths that other countries would attribute to Covid-19.

Experts have predicted 1 to 2 million deaths in China by the end of 2023.

Li, who was exercising in the tree-lined grounds of the Temple of Heaven in central Beijing, said he is considering getting a second booster because of the hype: “As long as we know that the vaccine will not cause major side effects, we should take it .”

Neighborhood committees that form the lowest level of government have been ordered to find all people aged 65 and over and monitor their health. They are doing what state media calls “ideological work” of lobbying residents to persuade elderly relatives to get vaccinated.

In Beijing, the Chinese capital, the Liulidun neighborhood is promising people over 60 up to 500 yuan (NZ$115) to receive a vaccination course with two doses and a booster.

The National Health Commission announced on Dec. 23 that the number of people vaccinated daily has more than doubled to 3.5 million nationwide. But that’s still a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of injections that were being administered every day in early 2021.

Older people are put off by the possible side effects of Chinese-made vaccines, for which the government has not announced test results in people aged 60 and older.

Li said a 55-year-old friend had a fever and blood clots after being vaccinated. He said he can’t be sure the gunshot was to blame, but his friend is reluctant to get another one.

“Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey also say that the virus continues to mutate,” Li said. “How do we know if the vaccines we take are helpful?”

Some are reluctant because they have diabetes, heart problems and other health complications, despite expert warnings that it is even more urgent that they get vaccinated because the risks of Covid-19 are more serious than the possible side effects of the vaccine in almost everyone.

A 76-year-old man who takes his daily walk through the Temple of Heaven with the help of a stick said he wants to be vaccinated but has diabetes and high blood pressure. The man, who only gave his last name, Fu, said he wears masks and tries to avoid crowds.

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