Even as authorities lock down cities with China’s worst outbreak in two years, they are looking to find a way out of a successful but difficult COVID-19 containment strategy.
A study, interviews with Chinese public health workers and recent public messaging by government-affiliated experts indicate that China is exploring ways to gradually ease its zero-tolerance approach. with giving.
The latest hints came in an essay published on Monday by Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert who is part of Shanghai’s COVID-19 response team and referred to by China’s “Dr. Fauci” _ after US government expert Anthony Fauci _ for his public health message during the pandemic.
Zhang wrote in the Chinese business news outlet Caixin that the public needs to know that if people are vaccinated and their health is not already compromised, the virus is becoming less deadly. The essay states, “Shunting terror to it is a step we must take.”
“We must take a very clear path and not spend all our time debating whether we should continue to have zero COVID or coexist (with the virus),” Zhang wrote.
Change does not look imminent, with more than 15,000 new cases this month in multiple outbreaks across the country, as well as a major case that shook Hong Kong. For now, the government is sticking with a tried-and-true policy of lockdown, repeated mass testing of lakhs of people and a quarantine of two weeks or more for foreign arrivals.
When it does come, any change will of course be gradual and cautious. Opening up carries risks, as the country’s success in protecting people from COVID-19 means many people do not have the antibodies to fight off the virus from previous infections. Furthermore, China is using only domestically developed vaccines that are less effective than Pfizer and other widely used vaccines.
“Given the still relatively low infection rate, the lack of natural immunity, and the ineffectiveness of vaccines in preventing infections. This is guaranteed to invite another wave of attack,” a public health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in the US Yanzhong Huang said
However, Chinese officials are paying close attention, as other countries are easing mask mandates and other restrictions, and examining when and how to make difficult transitions.
On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged the toll of the stringent measures, saying China should seek “maximum impact” with “minimum cost” in controlling the virus, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The first step may be to allow more international flights _ which have been sharply curtailed since the pandemic _ and reduce the quarantine for travelers arriving in cities like Beijing from 21 days to a week .
China’s Center for Disease Control’s Weekly Bulletin of News and Research published a paper last week outlining possible ways to ease the zero-COVID policy.
The paper suggests reducing the mandatory quarantine for arriving travelers to seven days, adding that it will still test most cases because the virus can now be detected more rapidly, and that China’s The health system is strong enough to handle any slip through the cracks.