‘China risks 1.3-2.1mn lives if it ends zero-Covid strategy’

Updated on Nov 28, 2022 11:42 PM IST

Science analytics company Airfinity used trends from Hong Kong’s Omicron (BA.1) wave as a proxy for how an outbreak could play out in China, where protests have erupted across the country over the stifling Covid-19 containment strategy.

A health worker takes a swab sample from a woman to test for Covid-19 in the Jing’an district in Shanghai, China on Monday. (AFP)
A health worker takes a swab sample from a woman to test for Covid-19 in the Jing’an district in Shanghai, China on Monday. (AFP)

New Delhi: Between 1.3 and 2.1 million lives could be at risk in China if it relaxes its Covid-19 lockdowns, a new analysis said on Monday, underscoring how Beijing may have painted itself into a corner with its zero-Covid policy and underwhelming vaccine rollout.

Science analytics company Airfinity used trends from Hong Kong’s Omicron (BA.1) wave as a proxy for how an outbreak could play out in China, where protests have erupted across the country over the stifling Covid-19 containment strategy that involves shutting down cities, barricading homes and locking up factories.

“It is essential for China to ramp up vaccinations to raise immunity in order to lift its zero-Covid policy, especially given how large its elderly population is,” said Louise Blair, Airfinity’s head of vaccines and epidemiology.

The findings are similar to what researchers from China said in a study published earlier this year in the journal Nature. They predicted 1.6 million deaths could take place over a six-month period if the country were to lift its policy of hard lockdown.

“Should an Omicron variant epidemic be allowed to spread uncontrolled in mainland China, we project 1.10 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants over a 6-month period. By comparison, 187,372 deaths have been reported in the United States (that is, 0.57 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants) over the period from December 15, 2021 to April 15, 2022, roughly corresponding to the Omicron wave,” the study said.

The Airfinity assessment attributed the threat to the lack of immunity by either adequate vaccination or prior infection and found that China would need hybrid immunity to allow for the country to brace future waves with minimal impact.

“This has proven effective in other countries and regions; for example, while Hong Kong efforts to vaccinate the vulnerable prior to opening likely only dampened the impact of its first wave, its protection has been enhanced by hybrid immunity from mass infection leading to much less impactful and deadly Covid-19 waves,” Blair added.

The Nature study estimated that “around 77% of the death toll in China would occur in unvaccinated individuals, with most deaths occurring among unvaccinated individuals aged 60 years or more”.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Binayak reports on information security, privacy and scientific research in health and environment with explanatory pieces. He also edits the news sections of the newspaper.

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