China's rural medical system ready for COVID surge from festival trips
China's rural areas are facing a "retaliatory travel" surge from city residents after COVID-19 measures were optimized and boosted for cross-country trips during Chinese New Year.
"We are extremely worried about the potential COVID-19 surge in rural areas as people are visiting homes after three years of strict measures that prevented people from going home," said Jiao Yahui, head of the Bureau of Medical Administration under the National Health Commission (NHC).
Chinese villages are usually vast but sparsely populated. Though not ideal for virus transmission, villages in general lack medical care and preventive measures, according to Lv Dewen, a sociologist at Wuhan University who researches on issues in rural governance.
"On the contrary, counties are densely populated and are facing more severe situations once the virus spreads," Lv said in an interview in December last year with Guancha.cn, a Chinese online news and comments aggregator.
In particular, most counties are equipped with one central hospital, two at most, according to Lv.
But the country's health authority has been preparing medical systems at county and village levels.
"On the one hand, we've asked counties and towns to prepare for vehicle mobility so that patients in critical condition could be transferred to the county hospital immediately," Jiao told China Media Group.
"In addition, we have set up urban-rural hospital alliances over the years so that we can better utilize high-quality medical resources in the cities," said Jiao.
In fact, this alliance was established in 2019 to further improve China's medical services at grassroots level and facilitate the country's tiered diagnosis and treatment model.
The NHC also rolled out a plan on December 11 to enhance rural area's medical services for COVID-19 upsurge with detailed guidance and requirements.
The plan underscores the importance of carrying out health monitoring for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions among villages. It also asks county-level hospitals to increase medial supplies for critical patients while setting up more fever clinics at villages and towns.
While most targets should have been met by the end of December, 2022, the plan also aims to increase fever clinics in 90 percent of those areas by the end of March, 2023.
(Cover: Medical workers are on duty around the clock at the People's Hospital in Wufeng Tujia Autonomous County in the west of Hubei Province in central China, December 31, 2022. /CFP)