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China stares at 2 million deaths sans its zero-covid policy

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With China easing its zero-Covid policy in various cities, experts around the world fear that the country might witness almost 2 million deaths due to low vaccination and lack of hybrid community

Beijing, Dec 05: China relaxed its stringent zero-Covid policy in several cities after public protests and stepped up security across the country. With the country reporting high number of fresh infections, the decision has now raised concerns with some researchers predicting that the country might witness over 2 million deaths with the relaxation in the country's Covid policy.

The zero-Covid policy is health stringent policy that involves using public health measures such as contact tracing, mass testing, border quarantine, lockdowns, and mitigation software in order to stop community transmission of Covid-19 as soon as it is detected. The goal of the strategy is to get the area back to zero new infections and resume normal economic and social activities. Since the first case was reported in 2020, China has followed the policy which has disrupted the economic activity while drawing the ire of the public.

China stares at 2 million deaths sans its zero-covid policy

Although China's daily Covid cases are now near all-time highs, some cities are taking steps to loosen testing and quarantine rules after zero-Covid policy triggered a sharp economic slowdown and public unrest with people opposing Covid-19 lockdowns in the recent weeks.

The Impact of Lifting Zero Covid Policy
In a paper published by the Shanghai Journal of Preventive Medicine, Zhou Jiatong, head of the Center for Disease Control in southwestern Guangxi region, has claimed that mainland China might suffer over 2 million deaths if the tough Covid curbs are done away with. He has predicted that the cases could rise to more than 233 million, according to a report in Reuters.

Protests in China are by mainly students frustrated due to Covid: Xi JinpingProtests in China are by mainly students frustrated due to Covid: Xi Jinping

Similarly in May 2022, scientists in China and the US had warned that the country might witness over 1.5 million deaths due to Covid if the stringent zero-Covid policy are lifted without ramping up vaccination and access to treatments. The prediction was based on the severity of the infection worldwide and it further suggested that China might reduce the death count by increasing vaccination drive.

Last week, British scientific information and analytics company Airfinity said that China risks 1.3 million to 2.1 million Covid deaths if it lifts zero-Covid policy over two reasons: low vaccination and lack of hybrid community. It made the prediction based on Hong Kong's BA.1 wave in February which had eased COVID-19 restrictions after two years.

The company said it modelled its data on Hong Kong's BA.1 wave in February, which occurred after the city eased restrictions after two years.

What might add to its woes is that the country has not developed any form of herd immunity after suppressing the virus close to three years now, leading to the potential for more severe illnesses.

The recent upsurge in Covid cases has been largely driven by the BF.7 Omicron subvariant and lifting curbs means it will affect 160 million and 280 million people, another study tells. Although the vaccination is higher now, it will not prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, says Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong. "There would be a lot of severe cases and mortality."

However, China is hoping that its Omicron-specific vaccine could offer more protection than the current one.

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China's Vaccination Rate

Reports claim that over 90 per cent of its citizen has received two doses of vaccination, but the worrying part has been low rate of vaccination among elderly people as about 40% of over-80s had received two jabs plus a booster. "Many old people have underlying diseases. They reckon it won't be safe to get vaccinated. But in fact, it is safe." China's Covid expert panel, Prof Liang Wannian said. Like other countries, China did not vaccinate elderly first rather it preferred working class. Also, only 69 per cent of those aged 60 and above have received two jabs.

Ineffective China Vaccine
According to a report, the vaccination given to its citizen is not effective. A study by the University of Hong Kong lowered the Chinese vaccines' effectiveness, limiting it to just 60 per cent. It further revealed that those vaccinated with Sinovac were three times more vulnerable to die compared to those inoculated with the German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, reported Asian Lite International. The World Health Organisation has recommended in the past to give three-dose regimen for people aged 60 and older as the two doses cannot be enough protection.

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