Mobility and modern telecommunication concept: macro view of tablet computer and touchscreen smartphones with colorful interfaces on laptop notebook PC

The latest sign came Monday in an essay published by Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease specialist who is part of Shanghai’s COVID-19 response team known as China’s “Dr. Fauci” — after US government expert Anthony Fauci — for his posts. on public health during the pandemic

Even as authorities shut down cities in China’s worst outbreak in two years, they are looking for a way out of what has been a successful but tricky COVID-19 prevention strategy. A survey, interviews with Chinese public health personnel and recent public statements by government-affiliated experts indicate that China is exploring ways to slowly relax its zero-tolerance approach — with an emphasis on slow.

The latest sign came Monday in an essay published by Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease specialist who is part of Shanghai’s COVID-19 response team known as China’s “Dr. Fauci” — after US government expert Anthony Fauci — for his posts. on public health during the pandemic. Zhang wrote in the Chinese business news Caixin that the public should know that the virus will become less deadly if people are vaccinated and their health is not already at risk. should take,” the essay said.

“We need to chart a very clear path and not spend all our time debating whether we should continue zero COVID or co-exist (with the virus),” Zhang wrote. Change doesn’t seem imminent, with more than 15,000 new cases this month in multiple outbreaks across the country, as well as an even bigger one that has shocked Hong Kong. For now, the government is sticking to the tried-and-true policy of lockdowns, repeated mass testing of millions of people and a two-week or longer quarantine for overseas arrivals. When it comes, any change will almost certainly be gradual and cautious. Opening up comes with risks, as the country’s success in protecting people from COVID-19 means many do not have antibodies to fight the virus from a previous infection. In addition, China only uses domestically developed vaccines that are less effective than Pfizer’s and other commonly used vaccines.

“Given the still relatively low infection rate, the lack of natural immunity and also the ineffectiveness of the vaccines in preventing infections, … this is guaranteed to trigger another wave of attacks,” said Yanzhong Huang, a public health expert at the Council on US foreign relations, however, Chinese officials are watching closely, as other countries are easing mask mandates and other restrictions, exploring when and how to make the tricky transition.
On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged the toll of the strict measures and said China should seek “maximum effect” with “minimum cost” in containing the virus, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A first step could be allowing more international flights – which have been severely curbed since the pandemic – and reducing the quarantine for arriving passengers to a week of as much as 21 days in cities like Beijing. A weekly news bulletin and research from China’s Center for Disease Control published a paper last week outlining possible ways to relax zero-COVID policies.

The paper proposes reducing the mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers to seven days, as it still rules out most cases because the virus can now be detected more quickly, and China’s health system is robust enough to handle whatever that threatens. slips through the net. authors make it clear that abolishing all measures such as quarantine for all arrivals is not on the table. Their models show that a total easing of restrictions alone could lead to more than 10 million cases in southeastern Guangdong province, although that is based on the delta variant, not the more transmissible omicron that has become predominant.

A government investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the evidence points to a “suppression strategy” as the next transition point. That means, for example, a seven-day quarantine instead of an unlimited opening. Public health experts warn that discussion of easing “zero COVID” has been sporadic and tentative and no timeline has been set.

“It’s a draft document, not really a detailed plan,” said Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong. He added that he hadn’t heard anything about a coordinated government move to ease restrictions, “just some experts who float the idea from time to time.” Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations said he had heard of discussions about “turning away” from zero COVID several months ago, but that the recent surge in Hong Kong has left policymakers waiting for “the dust to settle”. More than 4,000 people have died in Hong Kong this year in an outbreak that has flooded hospitals and morgues and closed many shops and restaurants.

In mainland China, authorities have halted travel out of and within the worst-hit province of Jilin in the northeast. More than 1,800 cases were reported in Jilin on Friday, out of 2,400 across the country. However, restrictions were partially eased in Shenzhen, a major technology and financial center on the Hong Kong border that had been locked since Sunday. Control officer Lei Zhenglong told state television on Monday.

Many Chinese are expressing support for zero COVID and are proud that the government has managed to bring under control a virus that has killed millions elsewhere, particularly in the West. China’s official death toll stands at 4,636, the vast majority during the initial outbreak in early 2020. But after two years of sporadic lockdowns, there are signs that some are getting tired of the disruptions they bring. “It hit me,” said Li Jing, a tea seller in Beijing. “When I work from home, I don’t make as much money as when I go to work.” Chinese officials are concerned about relatively low vaccination rates among the elderly, although they have not released any recent figures. The elderly are responsible for the vast majority of deaths in Hong Kong, and many of them were not fully vaccinated.

Studies of Chinese vaccines suggest that they offer significantly less protection against infection by ommicron, even after three doses, than a booster injection of a Western vaccine using mRNA technology. A Chinese mRNA vaccine is still being tested. A major reason China is “not confident” enough to eliminate zero COVID is because of the lower efficacy of its vaccines, said a Chinese public health official, who declined to be named to speak candidly on a sensitive topic. The official added that authorities are monitoring what is happening in Hong Kong for any lessons for the mainland.

Public health experts say countries can live with the virus as long as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are protected. “It’s not the same virus as two years ago in Wuhan and elsewhere,” said virologist Jin Dong-yan at the University of Hong Kong. “That’s the most important message we need to pass on.”

This post China weighs exit from ‘zero COVID’ and associated risks

was original published at “”