Despite the falling number of cases, China is sticking to its corona measures. The country is pursuing a strict no-Covid policy and actually doesn’t want to afford a case at all. But the restrictions cannot last forever. A study shows what China faces if it lets the virus run.
Week-long lockdowns. people in isolation camps. Disrupted supply chains and closed operations. The price China is paying for its strict zero-Covid policy is high. However, suddenly dropping all measures is not a solution to free yourself from the dilemma – this is now shown by a new study.
Chinese scientists had modeled what a full repeal of the zero-Covid strategy would mean for the country. The results, which they published in the journal “Nature Medicine”, are sobering. The researchers expect a “tsunami” wave of new infections, which would have devastating consequences for the country and the people.
Although, according to official information, 91 percent of the population of billions are vaccinated and 53 percent are also boosted, mega outbreaks could not be prevented. This is also due to the fact that the two inactivated vaccines “Sinopharm” and “Sinovac” were primarily used in China. These are considered to be significantly less effective than the mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Biontech administered in Germany, for example.
In their study, the researchers modeled the following worst-case scenario should China now drop its strict measures:
Because of the age differences in China’s already limited vaccination coverage, most of the dead would be unvaccinated people over the age of 60, according to the scientists, who conduct research at Fudan University in Shanghai, among others, but also in the USA.
With their warning, they support the controversial and extremely tough Covid policy of the Beijing leadership, but also outline the dilemma in which China finds itself. Because the resentment in the country in view of the tough measures is growing.
Tens of thousands are stuck in quarantine camps under sometimes difficult conditions. There are problems with food deliveries. Medical care is partially restricted. In the event of a fire, fire engines sometimes cannot get through barriers. Cargo traffic through the world’s largest port in Shanghai has collapsed because trucks are already missing. Supply chains are broken. Most of the 26 million residents of the port metropolis of Shanghai and tens of millions in other metropolises, especially in northeast China, have been in lockdown for more than a month.
After two years of largely successful virus control and isolation, China is now falling victim to its strict zero-Covid strategy, as there is no infection at all. “Lack of vaccination and absence of the virus make the Chinese population look similar to the entire world population at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Timo Ulrichs, an expert in global health at the Akkon University of Human Sciences in Berlin. “In view of the very high infectivity of the omicron variant, the zero-Covid strategy can only be maintained with ever stricter measures. The question remains: ‘What comes after that?’”
The Chinese researchers also addressed this question. They named a strategy with which the number of dead and sick could be reduced if the strategy were adapted. Vaccination played a “key role” in it, including boosters and campaigns for the over-60s, as well as antiviral therapies and social distancing. There must be a combination because none of the proposals alone would be able to reduce the number of deaths to the level of normal flu outbreaks, around 88,000 deaths.
“Whether or for how long a zero-Covid policy can be maintained is in question,” the study’s authors conclude. As recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), all nations should prepare “to find their own path for the transition from a Drafting a pandemic into an endemic phase”.
After a “dynamic”, somewhat more targeted zero-Covid strategy was adopted in August 2021 because of the more contagious virus variants, China is now debating how long this can continue. The debate is shifting to containment strategies on how the burden on the health system can be reduced. Due to the large differences in the country, strategies would also have to be tailored differently from region to region.
However, epidemiologist Ulrichs does not share the fear that the healthcare system will be overloaded immediately after cautious openings. “It would depend entirely on the right strategy, and there are good role models for this in other countries.” It would be advisable to China to “let the virus into the country with careful openings”.
At the same time, there should be nationwide vaccination with the four vaccines approved in the West. The Chinese vaccines “do not appear to provide adequate immunity.”