Patients build up outside entrances as hospitals in China struggle with rising COVID infections

Patients in China are being forced to wait in beds outside entrances and along corridors as hospitals continue to struggle with rising COVID-19 infections.

After a long-held zero-COVID policy, China has relaxed many of its strict coronavirus rules and the disease has been spreading rapidly across the country.

In one video clip posted on social media, patients at Zhongshang Hospital in Shanghai could be seen in beds as part of long queues which stretched to outside the main entrances.

Other queues of people waiting for assistance had formed inside the hospital.

The end to zero-COVID rules at the beginning of December has unleashed the virus on China, which is home to 1.4 billion people.

The population has little immunity after being shielded since the coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Many funeral homes and hospitals say they are overwhelmed, while international health experts have warned of at least one million deaths in China this year.

China has reported five or fewer deaths a day since December's policy U-turn.

"That is totally ridiculous," said one Beijing resident of the official toll.

"Four of my close relatives died. That's only from one family.

"I hope the government will be honest with the people and the rest of the world about what's really happened here."

Read more:
Doctors describe the chaos in China's hospitals
Travellers from China will need to show negative test
Beijing threatens retaliation over travel rules
Too early to declare end of pandemic, warn experts

The World Health Organisation was holding talks in Geneva on Wednesday amid increasing international concern about the accuracy of China's data about the outbreak.

Director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO had reiterated to China "the importance of vaccination, including booster doses to protect against hospitalisation, severe disease and death".

"We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing," he said.

The WHO says it is concerned about "risk to life" in China amid a surge in COVID cases, while in Europe and the US the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is spreading rapidly.

The organisation confirmed XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible variant so far, but said so far it did not appear to cause more serious illness.

It evolved from the XBB variant of Omicron, itself a fusion of two different BA.2 variants - BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75.

China's recent COVID outbreak is predominantly led by the Omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7, which together account for 97.5% of all local infections.

European Union health officials are also discussing a coordinated response to the situation in China, such as further travel restrictions.