Who’s Faster?: The Chinese Government vs. Omicron


A week after the easing of strict coronavirus policies in China, the country’s authorities have not grasped the exact spread of the virus. On Wednesday, China’s National Health Authority said the actual number of cases could no longer be determined. Vice Premier Sun Chunlan explained that the number of coronavirus infections in Beijing is “rapidly increasing”. The streets of the capital were almost empty on Wednesday.

After a wave of protests and facing a depressed economy, the government lifted some strict zero covid restrictions and simplified mass testing, quarantine and isolation requirements. The state media deliberately downplays the danger posed by the coronavirus.

Scientists from Shanghai and the United States predicted what could threaten China already in May. The omicron wave is estimated to kill 1.55 million Chinese and the health system may collapse.

You don’t need any theoretical models to assess the situation, it’s enough to look at Hong Kong: there were dramatic scenes at the beginning of the year. can now also come to China. The city suffered from mass infections because Hong Kong authorities failed to encourage vulnerable residents to get vaccinated. Low vaccination rates have resulted in more deaths in Hong Kong than any other country in the world.

    Workers in protective gear walk past dismantled barricades along a store after Chinese authorities eased a Covid-19 lockdown in the Haizhu district.
Workers in protective gear walk past dismantled barricades along a store after Chinese authorities eased a Covid-19 lockdown in the Haizhu district.
© Uncredited/dpa

China is ill-armed in this respect. Because so far, only about 40 percent of people over the age of 80 have been revaccinated. The World Health Organization said the three doses are particularly important for Chinese vaccines because they are generally less effective than mRNA technology.

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Therefore, the vaccination campaign in China is now being massively intensified. Challenges: The government must first convince citizens that Covid-19 vaccines are safe. The elderly population is particularly skeptical of vaccination, as China’s first vaccines were not tested on people over 60 years of age. Misinformation has spread that the coronavirus vaccine is not safe for older people and has contributed to low vaccination rates.

In the middle of an omicron wave, it can become fatal. Other countries that also followed a zero-covid strategy at the beginning of the pandemic, such as Singapore, allowed restrictions to be eased only when the population had developed sufficient immune protection. China, on the other hand, is riding the wave and softening at the same time. Experts are critical of this. “The course of grafting together with precautions determines development,” says Viola Priesemann, professor at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization. “For the number of infections to remain stable and thus controlled, an infected person should infect only one other person on average,” explains Priesemann, recalling the reproductive value R. If it’s one, the number of infected remains constant.

1.55

millions Scientists predict that death may be caused by micro wave in China.

Nevertheless, according to Priesemann, mass vaccinations alone are not enough to ease China’s health system: “In addition to the vaccination campaign, a transition period is needed during which follow-up measures such as testing, quarantine and isolation are applied.” is carried out effectively, the number of cases could remain small for the time being, and the hospitals would not be burdened. If enough people had developed sufficient immune protection against the severe course of the disease, you could gradually relax. But China has already decided to relax safeguards. This seems to have caused concern among the public.

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DER SPIEGEL - Program update
The virus probably hasn't lost its terror: as in Wuhan, people are queuing up at clinics and offices in cities.
The virus probably hasn’t lost its terror: as in Wuhan, people are queuing up at clinics and offices in cities.
© Reuters/Martin Pollard

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