China Covid Blast: World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has issued a statement in regard to China which is witnessing a sudden rise in Covid cases saying that all hypotheses about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic remain on the table and that they will continue to call the country to share the data.
“We continue to call on China to share the data and conduct the studies we have requested, and which we continue to request. As I have said many times before, all hypotheses about the origins of Covid19 pandemic remain on the table,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization said.
WHO very serious about China Covid wave
At a press briefing, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency needs more information on COVID-19 severity in China, particularly regarding hospital and intensive care unit admissions, “in order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground.”
“WHO is very concerned over the evolving situation in China with increasing reports of severe disease,” Tedros said. He added that while COVID deaths have dropped more than 90% since their global peak, there were still too many uncertainties about the virus to conclude that the pandemic is over.
Some scientists have warned that the unchecked spread of COVID-19 in China could spur the emergence of new variants, which might unravel progress made globally to contain the pandemic.
“Vaccination is the exit strategy from omicron,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said.
Ryan said the explosive surge of cases in China was not exclusively due to the lifting of many of the country’s restrictive policies and that it was impossible to stop transmission of omicron, the most highly infectious variant yet seen of COVID-19.
He said vaccination rates among people over age 60 in China lagged behind many other countries and that the efficacy of the Chinese-made vaccines was about 50%.
“That’s just not adequate protection in a population as large as China, with so many vulnerable people,” Ryan said.
He added that while China has dramatically increased its capacity to vaccinate people in recent weeks, it’s unclear whether that will be enough.
To date, China has declined to authorize Western-made messenger RNA vaccines, which have proven to be more effective than its locally made shots.
Beijing did agree to allow a shipment of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to be imported, for Germans living in China.
“The question remains whether or not enough vaccination can be done in the coming week or two weeks that will actually blunt the impact of the second wave and the burden on the health system,” Ryan said.
Like Tedros, he said WHO had insufficient information about the extent of severe disease and hospitalization, but he noted that nearly all countries overwhelmed by COVID-19 had struggled to share such real-time data.
Ryan also suggested China’s definition of COVID deaths was too narrow, saying the country was limiting it to people who have suffered respiratory failure.
“People who die of COVID die from many different (organ) systems’ failures, given the severity of infection,” Ryan said.
“So limiting a diagnosis of death from COVID to someone with a COVID positive test and respiratory failure will very much underestimate the true death toll associated with COVID.”
Countries such as Britain, for example, define any COVID death as someone who has died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
Globally, nearly every country has grappled with how to count COVID deaths, and official numbers are believed to be a major underestimate.
In May, WHO estimated there were nearly 15 million coronavirus deaths worldwide, more than double the official toll of 6 million.
Modelling predicts 1-2 million deaths in China amid new Covid wave
The Indian health ministry held urgent talks on the COVID-19 situation on Wednesday, different sets of data modelling indicate that China could be facing a massive death toll from a surge in cases after it lifted its stringent zero-COVID policy.
According to a recent report in The Economist, around 1.5 million Chinese could die based on its model that calculates the trajectory of the country’s outbreak under different scenarios based on estimates of the rates at which people become infected, get sick, recover or die – referred to as the SEIR model.
Those figures tally with other recent modelling, including a report in ‘The Lancet’ journal from last week quoting analysis by Airfinity, a UK-based science information and analytics company, which projected that somewhere between 1.3 and 2.1 million people could die from COVID-19 after China re-opens.
“Predicting the number of deaths is tricky. Much will depend on the coverage and timing of the COVID-19 vaccines among the elderly and vulnerable, as well as the availability of antivirals,” The Lancet noted.
“Serological studies from the UK have shown that almost everyone in the nation has antibodies against SARS-CoV-2; equivalent data for China are not publicly available, but levels of natural immunity will certainly be low. The country has registered fewer than 2 million cases of COVID-19 throughout the course of the pandemic,” it said.
According to the journal, Feng Zijian, former deputy director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, has suggested that 60 per cent of the country’s population could become infected with SARS-CoV-2 – the virus which causes COVID-19 – in the first wave of disease following opening up, which equates to 840 million people.
(With inputs from PTI)
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