One of China’s top pandemic advisers has said that Beijing’s strict Covid zero strategy would prevent the new Omicron variant from posing a serious threat, which justifies the harsh policy at a time when the rest of the world has been trying to ease restrictions .
The comments, reported in Chinese media, came as authorities released a study by local academics warning that any attempt by China to deviate from the elimination strategy by following Western herd immunity models would be “catastrophic”.
“China’s current rapid response… Strategy can handle different types of Covid variants,” Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert and director of Huashan Hospital’s infectious disease ward in Shanghai, told Weibo: “I do not think it will have a big impact. in China at the moment. ”
Beijing has adopted a tough Covid-zero strategy involving exposing a large number of people to mandatory government quarantine, with broad definitions of those considered close contact.
Although effective in preventing deaths, it has left the nation isolated from the rest of the world. Most other countries in the region, which had also pursued elimination strategies, are moving towards an acceptance of the disease as endemic.
But Zhang said the strategy had won China a “strategic opportunity” as the arrival of the new variant forced other countries to start reintroducing restrictions.
Zhong Nanshan, another top Chinese pandemic expert, said authorities would need to be aware of visitors’ arrivals from Africa, but did not propose further government measures to tackle the new variant.
“How harmful it is, how fast it will spread, whether it will make the disease more serious… It is too early to draw a conclusion,” Zhong said at the weekend, according to Chinese media.
In the study, Chinese mathematicians warned that moving away from China’s strict Covid-zero approach to one similar to the United States could lead to as many as 637,155 new cases daily, which would have a “devastating impact on the Chinese medical system. and cause a great catastrophe in the nation ”.
“Estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak that would almost certainly induce an insurmountable burden on the medical system,” the authors wrote.
The warning was contained in a study by Yuan Zhang, Chong You, Xin Gai and Xiaohua Zhou published on November 24 by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our findings have raised a clear warning that we are not currently ready to embrace ‘open’ strategies based solely on the hypothesis of vaccination-induced herd immunity recommended by certain Western countries,” the authors said.
But they said they did not take into account any difference in the effectiveness of the vaccines between those offered in the West and China.
China’s population has mostly been inoculated with more traditional “inactivated” vaccines manufactured by state-owned Sinopharm and domestic pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech. Some experts say there is doubt as to whether these more traditional types of vaccines offer as long-lasting protection as those based on newer mRNA technology.
Zhong said about 76.8 percent of the country’s population was vaccinated, with 80 percent targeted by the end of the year.
Sinovac, which has developed and delivered millions of its shots worldwide, said they were working on getting samples of the new variant to test the effectiveness of its shots against the strain. China is also developing its own home-grown mRNA shoots.