Daily coronavirus infections are dropping in many parts of China, but the wave of severe illness is far from over, health authorities said. Covid-19 has spread like wildfire across China since early December, when Beijing pivoted to living with the virus after three years of strict zero-Covid measures. Public health experts projected infections would peak at different times in different parts of the country, with rural areas lagging behind . But it appears the peak has arrived earlier than expected, especially in rural areas. How political and economic pressure led to Beijing’s zero-Covid U-turn Henan , one of China’s most populous provinces, said 89 per cent of its 100 million residents – nearly half of whom live in rural areas – had already been infected, and visits to fever clinics had been “continuously decreasing” since December 19. Previously, it was feared migrant workers returning to rural areas and smaller cities for Lunar New Year would bring a wave of infections. “A comprehensive study concluded that Henan province has successfully passed the peak of infections and achieved a smooth and orderly transition. The number of new infections per day is expected to remain low until the end of the month,” said Kan Quancheng, director of the provincial health commission, on Monday. However, the province is still pushing through a tide of severe illness, Kan said. Zhejiang province also announced on Monday that it had “smoothly” passed the peak of its first wave of infections and must focus on preventing severe illness and improving treatment. “We must … increase inpatient beds and ICU beds, enhance the capacity to treat serious illnesses, and ensure that all patients are admitted and treated as soon as possible. The precise delivery of antiviral medications should be strengthened to ensure that the elderly and other key vulnerable groups are treated with medications right away,” said a statement on the province’s Covid-19 response on Monday. A report by Xinhua Daily, a state-owned newspaper in eastern Jiangsu province, said cases reached their highest level on December 27, with all cities in the province peaking before New Year’s Day. Infections topped out a little later in rural areas but were on a downward trend, the report said. Sichuan, another province with a large rural population, passed its infection peak last month but continued to battle severe illness. “We believe that the overall incidence of infection in Sichuan residents has exceeded 80 per cent … we are currently in a critical period to prevent serious illness and reduce death,” said Tang Xuefeng, an official with the Sichuan Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV in late December. Beijing, once at the forefront of China’s Covid-19 battle, has “built up a new capacity of immune competence among the whole population”, said acting mayor Yin Yong. “The next stage is to build a scientific monitoring and early warning system for epidemic outbreaks, including sentinel sites and hospital fever clinics, to strengthen the monitoring of new variants,” he said, adding that life in the capital city had returned to normal. Other areas of China reported similar updates. The southwestern megacity of Chongqing and the southern cities of Foshan and Huizhou, both in Guangdong province, said they would start focusing on the treatment and prevention of severe cases and future waves in rural areas as infections had generally peaked.