Surge of Children with Respiratory Illnesses Overwhelms Hospitals in Northern China

Beijing and other major cities in northern China are facing a surge in children with respiratory illnesses, leading to overcrowded hospitals and long wait times.

Hospitals in Beijing and other major cities in northern China are grappling with a surge of children with respiratory illnesses as the country enters its first winter since relaxing stringent Covid-19 controls nearly one year ago. CNN reporting and Chinese state and social media have revealed that wait times to see doctors stretch for hours, with hundreds of patients queuing at some children’s hospitals. The Beijing Children’s Hospital has reported that the current average of more than 7,000 daily patients far exceeds its capacity. The situation has raised global concern, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to request more information from China regarding the increase in respiratory illnesses and reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children.

Seasonal Illnesses Driving the Surge

Health officials in Beijing and other major cities in northern China have identified typical seasonal illnesses, including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and mycoplasma pneumonia, as the driving causes behind the surge in cases. The rise in respiratory infections is not unique to China, as countries in the northern hemisphere, including the United States, are also experiencing an increase in RSV among children.

WHO Clarifies the Situation

After speaking with Chinese health and hospital officials, the WHO stated that the data indicated an increase in outpatient consultations and hospital admissions of children due to mycoplasma pneumonia since May and common seasonal illnesses such as RSV, adenovirus, and influenza virus since October. The agency clarified that these increases, while earlier in the season than historically experienced, were not unexpected given the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

No Evidence of Novel Pathogen

Experts monitoring the situation have noted that there is no evidence of a novel pathogen at work. Virologist Jin Dongyan from the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biomedical Sciences stated that there is no evidence for the presence of an unknown pathogen. Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Deakin University in Australia, emphasized the importance of monitoring sources of infection to rule out any concerns about new pathogens or increased disease severity.

Overcrowded Hospitals and Long Wait Times

Chinese parents have taken to social media to express their frustrations with the crowded situation at hospitals. It takes hours for children to see a doctor, and even longer waits are required for blood tests or intravenous drips. China’s underdeveloped primary care system means that sick people typically head to hospitals or emergency rooms as their first point of contact, leading to overcrowding during peak seasons.

Calls for Alternative Care Facilities

Chinese national health authorities and hospital officials have repeatedly urged parents not to rush their children directly to large pediatric facilities. They have instead called for them to be diagnosed at other health centers offering primary care or general services. The National Health Commission (NHC) warned parents about long wait times and the high risk of cross-infection in large hospitals, directing them to other facilities for triage.

Post-Covid Surge and Limited Data

The surge in hospital visits coincides with China’s first full winter without its “zero-Covid” controls. These controls, which included strict social distancing and face mask mandates, were relaxed last December after rare protests erupted against the measures. Limited public data released by China makes it difficult to determine if there has been an increase in respiratory illnesses or severe cases among children compared to pre-pandemic years. Experts suggest that social factors, such as increased parental concern following the pandemic, may be contributing to the current situation.


The surge of children with respiratory illnesses in northern China has overwhelmed hospitals and led to long wait times for medical care. While health officials have identified typical seasonal illnesses as the driving causes, there is no evidence of a novel pathogen at work. The WHO has clarified that the increase in cases is not unexpected given the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. However, there are calls for China to share more information with the public and for prompt reporting and monitoring of respiratory illnesses, considering the ongoing pandemic and the potential for new viruses or mutations to cause illness. As the situation continues to unfold, it is crucial to ensure the availability of adequate healthcare resources and to monitor the impact of seasonal illnesses on children’s health.






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