LEZHI, China: In a busy village clinic in Lezhi county in southwest China’s Sichuan province on Thursday (Dec 29), 59-year-old Yang waited anxiously as her husband received an intravenous drip in the adjacent room.
For more than a week he has had a fever, chills, a cough, and other COVID-like symptoms, she said, like millions of other Chinese caught in a coronavirus wave after authorities dismantled zero-COVID policies this month.
Experts say the elderly in rural areas may be particularly vulnerable because of their vaccine hesitancy and inadequate medical resources. Next month’s Chinese New Year festival, when hundreds of millions will travel to their hometowns, will add to the risk.
“I’m worried, I’m scared,” an emotional Yang said between frequent glances at her husband, a construction worker surnamed Xiong. “This isn’t just a light illness like they are saying online.”
Xiong, who has received three shots of China’s domestically produced vaccine, was confident he would feel better soon. But he was concerned about reinfection and says things were better before opening up.
“Practically everyone at my construction site has been infected,” he said. “Since the opening up, the virus has spread everywhere.”
Yang and Xiong, like several others interviewed for this article, declined to give their full name, a common practice in China for people who agree to speak to reporters.
Next to Xiong in the small office-sized treatment room in the Kongque village clinic four other patients, all but one elderly and all on IV drips, lay coughing intermittently.
“It’s a bit worse than the original cold,” said Tang Shunping, 80. “I was taking cold and flu supplements and I was fine, but now they don’t work anymore.”
On the other side of the room, Chen Lifen, 86, who suffers from other conditions including heart disease and high blood pressure, was accompanied by her daughter and full-time caregiver, Liao Xiaofeng.
Chen has not been vaccinated. The family had concerns after hearing stories online of possible side effects, Liao said.
Several locals in the area, around 90 minutes east of Sichuan province’s capital, Chengdu, said that although the virus was everywhere, it is “as the state says, just like a cold,” reflecting the recent about-face in messaging from Chinese authorities.