Your Wednesday Briefing: China’s Overwhelmed Hospitals

Credit…Associated Press

China’s hospitals on the front lines of Covid

China’s medical system was already overcrowded, underfunded and inadequately staffed in the best of times. But now with Covid spreading freely for the first time in China, it is being pushed to its limits.

The Times examined several videos that showed scenes of desperation and misery at one hospital in northern China. Above, three stills. Sickened patients slump in wheelchairs and lie on gurneys, waiting for help as the corridors ring with the sounds of coughing.

There are reports that physicians are being pulled from eastern provinces to help in Beijing as the capital grapples with an explosive outbreak. Doctors and nurses are continuing to work after contracting the virus because of the staff shortage.

In Shanghai, one hospital predicted half of the city’s 25 million residents would eventually be infected and warned its staff of a “tragic battle” in the coming weeks. “All of Shanghai will fall, and all the staff of the hospital will be infected!” according to a now-deleted statement the hospital posted last week on the social media platform WeChat.

On the brink: A doctor in Wuhan said the hospital staff was so depleted that a neurosurgeon recently had to perform two operations in one day while fighting symptoms of Covid. “About 80 to 90 percent of the people around me have been infected,” the physician said.

Soaring cases: Data released by local authorities in recent days seem to confirm that the virus is running rampant, with reports of hundreds of thousands of infections recorded daily. Questions abound about the number of Covid-related deaths because officials count only those who die from respiratory failure directly linked to a Covid infection. Officially, seven people have died from the virus since pandemic rules were relaxed on Dec. 7.

A Ukrainian soldier in Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured this fall. Fighting has since spread to Kreminna.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Ukraine sets its sights on a key city in the east

Ukrainian officials say their troops are edging closer to Kreminna, a fiercely defended city in northern Luhansk Province. It’s one of the most hotly contested places in the fight for the Donbas region.

Luhansk is almost entirely occupied by Russia and one of the four provinces that Russia illegally annexed in September. Recapturing Kreminna, as well as the neighboring cities of Svatove and Starobilsk, could enable Ukraine to continue its advance toward the Russian border and take back more territory seized by Moscow.

Understand the Situation in China

The Communist Party cast aside restrictive “zero Covid” policy, which set off mass protests that were a rare challenge to the Communist leadership.

  • Medicine Shortages: As Covid rips through parts of China, millions are struggling to find treatment — from the most basic cold remedies to take at home to more powerful antivirals for patients in hospitals.
  • Traumatized and Deflated: Gripped with grief and anxiety, many in China want a national reckoning over the hard-line Covid policy. Holding the government accountable may be a quixotic quest.
  • A Cloudy Picture: Despite Beijing’s assurances that the situation is under control, data on infections has become more opaque amid loosened pandemic constraints.
  • In Beijing: As Covid sweeps across the Chinese capital, Beijing looks like a city in the throes of a lockdown — this time, self-imposed by residents.

It would also give Ukraine control of a triangle of roads that provide access to two larger cities farther south, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which fell to Russia this summer. “The Russians understand that if they lose Kreminna, their entire line of defense will ‘fall,’” the regional governor of Luhansk said yesterday.

Background: Ukraine’s campaign to recapture Kreminna began this fall, around the time that it reclaimed Lyman, a city in the neighboring Donetsk Province. The campaign started at the end of a sweep through the northeastern region of Kharkiv, which forced Russia back toward the border.

Other updates:

  • The Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny said that he had been injected with an unknown medication after suffering from bad back pain while in prison.

  • Ukraine’s economy is projected to shrink about 40 percent this year.

  • Ryazan, a city near Moscow, is mourning its fallen soldiers. But residents do not resent the war.

Lee Myung-bak, center, was arrested in 2018.Credit…Pool photo by Chung Sung-Jun

Former South Korean president pardoned

Lee Myung-bak, a former president imprisoned for embezzlement and corruption, received a presidential pardon that will go into effect today. Lee, 81, will be released from a hospital in Seoul, where he was treated for chronic illnesses, and will not be returning to prison.

The pardon of Lee, who was president from 2008 to 2013, is intended “to restore the potential of a South Korea united through pan-national integration,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

Critics said the move would be popular among conservative supporters. Both Lee and South Korea’s current president, Yoon Suk Yeol, who granted the pardon, are conservative politicians.

Details: Lee was sentenced to a 17-year term in 2020. The pardon will cancel the remaining 15 years of his sentence and nullify the unpaid part of his fine, totaling 8.2 billion won ($6.4 million). The charges against Lee included collecting bribes, mostly from Samsung, and embezzling more than 30 billion won ($23.6 million.)

Other pardons: The pardon also applies to more than 1,300 other people convicted of white-collar crimes, including those who served under the former president Park Geun-hye, who was ousted in 2017 on charges of bribery and abuse of power. She was pardoned last year.


Asia Pacific

  • The long-haul Sydney Hobart sailing race is underway. For competitors, it can be a sleepless endeavor.

  • Taiwan’s president said that mandatory conscription on the island would be extended from four months to one year, because of the rising threat from China, Reuters reports.

  • Japan’s prime minister dismissed his fourth minister in two months following a string of scandals, Nikkei reports.

Around the World

The telescope is on a mission to observe the universe in wavelengths no human eye can see.Credit…NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team
  • Launched a year ago, the James Webb Space Telescope is working even better than astronomers had hoped.

  • The number of Nicaraguans fleeing to the U.S. has surged in recent years.

  • Thousands of holiday travelers remained stranded in the U.S. after more than 2,900 flights were canceled during the winter storm. Most were from Southwest Airlines.

A Morning Read

Expect more Japanese-inspired flavors next year.Credit…Jenny Huang for The New York Times

How will we eat in 2023? My colleague Kim Severson spoke to food forecasters about coming fads in a time of inflation, climate change and global tensions.

Among their predictions: Briny flavors, chicken skins, high-end Jell-O shots, and Ube, a slightly nutty-tasting, vanilla-scented purple yam from the Philippines. As concerns about the pandemic recede, communal tables may also make a comeback.


Kendrick Lamar, left, and Dave Free.Credit…Rafael Pavarotti for The New York Times

Kendrick Lamar’s next chapter

He is one of the greatest rappers of his generation: In addition to obtaining myriad Grammys, Kendrick Lamar is the first artist outside jazz and classical music to win the Pulitzer Prize. Now at 35, Kendrick has started pushing himself onto unexpected terrain.

Notably, he’s opening up. “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers,” the album he released last spring, is more personal and out-and-out emotional than his previous work.

Kendrick shocked the rap world when he left Top Dawg Entertainment, the label that discovered and nurtured his talent. He started his own company, pgLang, with his longtime collaborator, Dave Free.

“Everybody got their own journey. I was just fortunate enough to have a group of guys around me that gave me that courage to feed myself with the arts,” Kendrick said.


What to Cook

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times

Chestnut risotto feeds a crowd.

What to Read

In “Have You Eaten Yet?” Cheuk Kwan traces Chinese-owned restaurants from the Arctic to the Amazon.

What to Watch

“Corsage,” starring Vicky Krieps as the Empress of Austria, is a visually striking and ingeniously anachronistic portrait.


Prolonged and extreme anger can affect your heart, brain and gut.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and here’s a clue: Macaroni shape (five letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. My colleague Kashmir Hill got help from a special contributor for her story: a 7-month-old baby.

“The Daily” is about the first union at Amazon.

We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected].

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