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Why hasn't China sounded the omicron variant alarms? (Analysis)


As countries around the world try to impose travel bans to halt the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, China remains seemingly calm, at least for now.

Worldwide concern over omicron variant of the coronavirus 1:51

Hong Kong (CNN) -

As countries around the world try to impose travel bans to stop the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, China remains seemingly calm, at least for now.

Despite two confirmed cases of the new variant in Hong Kong, Chinese public health experts have expressed confidence in existing border control measures in the country.

Ómicron: first measurements by the new variant of covid-19 3:14

China's response, or lack of it, is not surprising.

The country's border restrictions are already among the strictest in the world, and most foreign visitors, from tourists to students, are prohibited from entering the Chinese mainland.

The few who are allowed in, as well as returning Chinese nationals, must undergo at least 14 days of strict centralized quarantine.

And that period can be extended up to 28 days by local authorities, often followed by another extended period of home observation.

  • Global markets brace for a week of nerves over omicron fears

Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert in Shanghai and possibly China's most trusted voice on covid-19, said the new variant "would not have a major impact on China at this time."

"China's current rapid response and dynamic removal strategy is capable of dealing with all kinds of new variants of the coronavirus," Zhang wrote in a social media post on Sunday.

And at a conference in Guangzhou over the weekend, Zhong Nanshan, a leading respiratory disease expert and government adviser, said China has no plans to take any "major action" in response to the omicron variant.


Chinese strategy

Meanwhile, in the Chinese state media the prevailing mood is one of apparent vindication.

As much of the world began to reopen and learn to live with COVID-19, China took a step forward and seemed increasingly isolated by comparison.

That isolation is now hailed as a unique advantage for China in the fight against the new variant.

"The major Western countries have cut air connections with countries like South Africa, which shows that these countries are scared. Establishing an immune shield based solely on the vaccine has proven to be a risky route, and it can even be said that it has not worked in to a great extent, "the Global Times, a state nationalist tabloid, said in an editorial on Sunday.

"China's dynamic zero-case route has been criticized in the West in many ways. However, if the omicron variant launches a new wave of attack, it will be China that can best block its invasion," said the editorial, which went on to state to China "a true impregnable fortress against the spread of the virus in today's world."

How "unassailable" is China's defense against the new variants is a matter of debate, given that the delta variant has repeatedly caused outbreaks in the country, with increasing frequency and for longer periods of time.

However, growing global concern and the avalanche of travel bans triggered by the omicron variant is likely to provide national public support for the Chinese government to maintain its zero tolerance approach to COVID-19 for as long as it sees fit.

Zero covid

The ruling Communist Party has linked the zero covid policy to its political legitimacy, promoting it as evidence of the alleged superiority of its one-party system over Western democracies, especially the United States.

But the strategy is also driven by sheer necessity, because China simply couldn't afford to open up without vaccines or more efficient treatments.

A study by mathematicians at the prestigious Beijing University found that China could face more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections a day if it abandoned its zero-tolerance policies by removing travel restrictions.

In the report published in the China CDC Weekly by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mathematicians evaluated the possible outcomes if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Spain, France and Israel.

If China were to adopt the US pandemic strategy, its daily new cases would reach at least 637,155, the study found.

"The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak that would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden on the medical system," the report said.

"Our findings have raised a clear warning that, at the moment, we are not ready to adopt 'openness' strategies based solely on the vaccination-induced herd immunity hypothesis advocated by certain Western countries."

More vaccines

He concluded that "more efficient vaccines or a more specific treatment, preferably a combination of both, are needed before entry and exit quarantine measures and other covid-19 response strategies in China can be safely lifted."

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at China's CDC, was quick to share the findings at a conference in Beijing on Sunday, calling China's zero-tolerance containment policy a "magic weapon" to control the pandemic.

While acknowledging that there were "some different opinions" towards the approach among the public, Wu emphasized that zero tolerance containment and border restrictions are absolutely necessary for the coming months.

"We have to stick with it, at least this winter and next spring," he said.

Covid-19 Variant

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2021-11-29

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