Home Lifestyle “Zero Covid”: expert opinion on Chinese politics has now softened

“Zero Covid”: expert opinion on Chinese politics has now softened

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China announced last week that it was easing some of its toughest Covid-19 restrictions, a major policy shift that suggests Beijing is preparing to abandon its zero-Covid strategy to learn to live with the virus. Experts say this was inevitable, but they risk sparking a massive wave of cases for which the world’s most populous country has yet to prepare.

Highlights

  • “Zero Covid,” Beijing’s policy of imposing strict containment measures and extensive testing to eradicate Covid infection, was very effective at the beginning of the epidemic, when the virus variant was less transmissible and before until vaccines and treatments were widely available, said Weni Yip, a policy professor. and Harvard Global Health Economics, for Forbes.
  • However, the evolution of more transmissible variants, especially newer types, means that the zero Covid strategy is no longer viable, explained Ben Cowling, professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.
  • Abandoning the policy is “inevitable,” Cowling said, but has the potential to lead to a surge in cases that, unless strict public health measures are reintroduced, could multiply until “the rate of susceptible people goes down.”
  • Given that Covid-19 vaccines provide little protection against infection – instead they help prevent severe forms, hospitalization and death – and that there are very few natural infections, this could represent a very important part of the Chinese population, which has the most of 1.4 billion people.
  • Reliance on home-grown vaccines, which are believed to be less effective at preventing serious disease than mRNA vaccines used in many Western countries, and low vaccination rates among the elderly mean that China faces “a greater impact on health care when it can no longer contain the virus,” Catherine Bennett, a professor of epidemiology at Deakin University in Australia, told Forbes.
  • Ms. Bennett said that using antiviral drugs to mitigate the risk of severe disease would be “essential for China,” adding that an important benefit for China of curbing the virus for so long is that “these drugs are now well-tested and widely produced.”

Meat

On Wednesday, China moved away from its zero Covid policy and eased some of its toughest pandemic restrictions. The changes, which include allowing home isolation for mild or asymptomatic cases and less stringent testing requirements, are a major policy shift and signal Beijing’s desire to move away from the politics that have guided its response to the pandemic so far. The move follows waves of protests against the restrictions that have spread across China in recent weeks, sparked in part by a surge in cases and the death of 10 people in a city apartment fire. The western city of Urumqi, which many blame for the restrictions. President Xi Jinping has bet a lot of political capital on this strategy and Beijing has vigorously defended the approach in the wake of widespread international criticism and global and domestic economic damage.

Key quote

Ms. Bennett told Forbes that a move away from a zero Covid strategy is “inevitable” and “will cause great disruption for China and therefore for the entire world at a time of transition…”. “We know from experience in Australia how difficult this transition can be until you have enough immunity through vaccination and infection to lower rates of serious illness and death.”

A large number

5,235 This is the number of Covid deaths China has reported since the start of the pandemic, according to government data compiled by Our World In Data. It also reported about 1.8 million confirmed infections during this period, recently setting a record of more than 40,000 new cases in one day. These figures, which are among the lowest in the world when considering population size, are likely an underestimate, given the government’s widely criticized reports.

to monitor

Moving away from a zero Covid policy, even if it is unsustainable, could cost China dearly. Given the questionable quality of vaccines, low immunization rates among the elderly, low levels of natural immunity, and a healthcare system likely to struggle to bear the brunt of a large wave, projections are that millions of people will become seriously ill or die if the virus spreads. Experts have warned that the country is facing a “tsunami” of cases that could flood hospitals and kill more than a million people if it changed course. Wigram Capital Advisors, as reported by the Financial Times, expects the daily death toll to reach 20,000 by mid-March. Health analytics firm Airfinity predicts that 2.1 million people will die if the policy is lifted. Yip of Harvard University said China should make it a priority to ensure that people at risk are vaccinated and encourage widespread recovery.

What we do not know

It is not yet clear what approach China will take and how far it will ease restrictions. A full return to normal “could take more than a year,” Collinge said. Reopening should be a gradual process and follow a timeline that varies depending on the number of residents vaccinated and immunized, as well as other factors such as hospital capacity, Ms. Yip told Forbes. Public education programs will be important to promote vaccination and ensure people know what to do in case of infection, Yip said, adding that as long as older people are aware that vaccines are safe and can protect against the severe consequences of infection, “they will be ready to be vaccinated.” Ms. Bennett echoed that sentiment, noting that “the message promoting a zero Covid strategy may have helped undermine the vaccination program if people had not seen it sooner”.

the shadow

Ms Bennett told Forbes there is a risk that China’s abandonment of a zero Covid policy “may also accelerate the possibility of seeing new variants” by exposing the country’s 1.4 billion people – nearly a fifth of the world’s population – to this infection. The Omicron sub-variants are likely to continue to dominate, Bennett said, “because they can cause reinfection and keep the waves going,” while boosting immunity against other variants. She said the real threat of infecting more people comes from the increased risk of creating recombinants, that is, genetic mixtures of different viruses. Such a virus can make existing immunity and tests and treatments less effective. Ms Bennett warned that it was possible for the virus responsible for Covid-19 to combine with an animal type of coronavirus, which could result in a “completely different type”.

Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: Robert Hart

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