Rising Covid infection in China casts doubt on end of global emergency: WHO | coronavirus

It may be too soon to declare a global end to the Covid-19 pandemic emergency due to a potentially devastating wave looming in China, according to several leading scientists and experts. World Health Organization advisers

His views represent a shift from Porcelain It began dismantling its zero-COVID policy last week after an unprecedented spike in infections and public protests. Projections have suggested the world’s second-largest economy could face more than a million deaths by 2023 after the abrupt turnaround.

China’s zero-Covid approach kept infections and deaths comparatively low among its population of 1.4 billion, but a relaxation in the rules has changed the global landscape, experts said.

“The question is whether it can be called post-pandemic when such a significant part of the world is entering its second wave,” said Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, who is part of a WHO committee tasked with advising on the status of Covid. emergency

“It is clear that we are in a very different phase [of the pandemic]But in my opinion, that pending wave in China is a wild card.

As recently as September, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had said that “the end is in sight” for the pandemic. Last week, he told reporters in Geneva that he was “hopeful” that the emergency would end sometime in 2023.

Most countries removed covid restrictions as threats from dangerous new variants of the virus or a resurgence of infections receded in the second half of 2022.

Tedros’ earlier comments raised hopes that the UN agency could soon remove the highest alert level designation for Covid, which has been in place since January 2020.

Koopmans and other members of the WHO advisory committee are due to make their recommendation on the alert level by the end of January. Tedros makes the final decision and is not required to follow the committee’s recommendation.

On Tuesday, cities across China they rushed to install hospital beds and build fever screening clinicsas authorities reported five more deaths and international concern grew over Beijing’s surprise decision to let the virus spread freely.

A general view inside a pharmacy in Beijing, China
There have been reports of shortages of vital medicines across China. Photo: Wu Hao/EPA

In addition to the risks to China, some global health figures have warned that allowing the virus to spread nationally could also give it a chance to mutate, potentially creating a dangerous new variant.

At the moment, data from China shared with both the WHO and the GISAID virus database show that the variants circulating there are the globally dominant Omicron and its derivatives, although the picture is incomplete due to a lack of data. complete data.

“The bottom line is that it’s not clear that the wave in China is driven by variants, or just represents a breach of containment,” said Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London.

The United States indicated on Tuesday that it is ready to help China with its growing outbreak, warning that an uncontrolled spread there may have implications for the world economy.

“We are prepared to continue to support countries around the world, including China, in this and other Covid-related health support,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. “For us this is not about politics, this is not about geopolitics.”

Asked if the United States had offered to provide vaccines to China, Price said: “I’m not going to get into private discussions, but we have publicly pointed out many times that we are the largest donor of Covid-19 vaccines worldwide. “. world.

“We also note that what happens in China has implications for the global economy.

“We also know that any time the virus spreads widely anywhere in an uncontrolled way, it has the potential for variants to emerge.”

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