According to several leading scientists and advisers to the World Health Organization, it may be too early to declare a global end of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency due to a potentially devastating wave coming to China.
Their views mark a shift since China began dismantling its zero-Covid policy last week following a spike in infections and unprecedented public protests. According to forecasts, the world’s second largest economy could face more than a million deaths after the abrupt change of course in 2023.
China’s zero-Covid approach kept infections and deaths comparatively low among its population of 1.4 billion, but relaxing rules has changed the global picture, experts said.
“The question is whether you can call it post-pandemic when such a significant part of the world is actually entering its second wave right now,” said Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, who sits on a WHO committee tasked with advising on the status of the virus Covid mandated is emergency.
“It is clear that we are in a completely different phase [of the pandemic]but in my opinion this upcoming wave in China is a wildcard.”
As recently as September, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “the end of the pandemic is in sight”. Last week he told reporters in Geneva he was “hopeful” for the state of emergency to end sometime in 2023.
Most countries lifted Covid restrictions as the threat of dangerous new variants of the virus or a resurgence of infections receded in the second half of 2022.
Tedros’ earlier comments raised hopes that the UN agency could soon lift the highest level of Covid alert that has been in place since January 2020.
Koopmans and other members of the WHO Advisory Committee are due to make their recommendation on the alert level at the end of January. Tedros makes the final decision and is under no obligation to follow the committee’s recommendation.
On Tuesday, cities across China scramble to install hospital beds and build fever screening clinics as authorities reported five more deaths and international concerns mounted over Beijing’s surprise decision to let the virus run free.
As well as the risks to China, some global health experts have warned that the virus’s domestic spread could also give it a chance to mutate and potentially create a dangerous new variant.
Currently, data from China shared with both the WHO and the virus database GISAID indicate that the variants circulating there are the world’s dominant omicron and its offshoots, although the picture is incomplete due to a lack of complete data.
“The bottom line is that it’s not clear that the surge in China is variant-driven or if it just represents a breakdown in containment,” said Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London.
The United States on Tuesday said it stands ready to support China in its outbreak, warning that an uncontrolled spread there could impact the global economy.
“We stand ready to continue to support countries around the world, including China, with this and other health assistance related to Covid,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “For us, this is not about politics, this is not about geopolitics.”
Asked if the US had offered to supply China with vaccines, Price said: “I will not engage in private discussions, but we have publicly indicated many times that we are the largest donor of Covid-19 vaccines on the planet.” whole world are world.
“We also note that what is happening in China is having an impact on the global economy.
“We also know that whenever the virus is spreading unchecked, there is potential for variants to emerge.”