With China continuing to face Covid triggered surge and serious attempts to prevent its spread are not in view, some media reports suggest that Beijing is now trying to get its population infected as quickly as possible so that the country could achieve herd immunity and refocus on economic development next year.
For some people such reports may appear unbelievable. But ground realities on China’s approach to deal with the virus indicate that the situation is rather getting messy as people are dying in thousands while Chinese authorities have refused to accept Western countries’ help in having stronger and effective vaccines to inoculate Chinese nationals.
The European Union offered to provide free Covid-19 vaccines to China to “help Beijing contain a mass outbreak of the illness,” British business daily, Financial Times said in its report on January 3. Domestically produced Sinovac and Sinopharm of China have proved ineffective in developing immunity against Covid among Chinese nationals.
Developed with non-mRNA technology, even two-dose of Sinovac or Sinopharm is highly ineffective in providing more than 50 per cent protection to people. “Two doses only provided 50 per cent protection for people over 60,” Chief of health emergencies of WHO, Dr Mike Ryan recently said during a press conference. This seems to be a revised estimate of WHO as it had earlier said potency of Chinese vaccines could not go beyond 79 per cent. Both Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines contain an inactivated or dead form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
A study by Hong Kong University had offered highly dangerous consequences of vaccination with Sinovac. While lowering effectiveness of Sinovac to just 60 per cent, the Hong Kong University study revealed that those vaccinated with Sinovac were three times more vulnerable to die compared to those inoculated with German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Asian Lite International said while highlighting details of the study.
On the other hand, a study by The Lancet, a British weekly peer-reviewed medical journal said both Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines were unable to detect Omicron sub-variants. Referring to a study by Brazil, Washington-based National Public Radio, a non-profit media organisation said Brasilia analysed Covid cases for more than 3 million people and it found that the protection against severe disease waned more quickly for Sinovac than the Pfizer vaccine. “In one study, looking specifically at the safety of CoronaVac (Sinovac), researchers at the University of Sao Paulo oversaw the immunization of about 12,000 people. They documented 67 serious adverse events,” National Public Radio said.
There are media reports suggesting that Chinese leadership, including President Xi Jinping, was quite aware of the potency of Chinese vaccines and this was the reason zero-Covid policy used to be followed forcefully in the country. Lower vaccination rate among people was also cited as the reason behind enforcing zero-Covid policy. It is said that China did not encourage people, especially elderly people for booster doses. By November 2022,
as per Reuters, only 86.4 per cent of people of 60-year-old and above could be fully vaccinated, while only 68.2 per cent could get a booster jab. By contrast, the vaccination and booster rates in Japan were more than 90 per cent, Reuters said in a report. The WHO has, however, asked for verified data on vaccination rates, especially among vulnerable groups and those over 60-year-old.
Experts say though zero-Covid policy helped China immensely in earning brownie points and international praise for being a country with far lower Covid cases in the last three years since Covid was first detected in Wuhan, it sharply deprived people from exposure to the virus and in developing herd immunity. Now that China has since December 7 eased restrictions, and has dispensed with compulsory quarantine requirements—all this in the aftermath of widespread protests over lockdowns and travel restrictions that zero-Covid policy envisaged, the East Asian country is in the sea of Covid triggered problems.
Thousands of people are dying daily while hospitals are bursting at seams with patients. In fact, the wave of Covid virus sweeping across the country has left Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, and other urban areas struggling with lack of enough mortuaries. The virus has also taken China’s rural areas in its grip. A leaked document of China’s National Administration of Disease Control and Prevention said that about 248 million people or 17.6 per cent of the 1.4 billion population were infected with the virus between December 1 and December 20. This ratio could have reached 40 per cent as of December 29, Asia Times quoted Zeng Guang, the former Chief Scientist of National Administration of Disease Control and Prevention as stating.
Amidst this, there is a lateral thinking among Chinese authorities that since the surge will continue and those who have been vaccinated are also falling sick as they have not developed herd immunity due to their non-exposure, let there be no further attempt to impose travel restrictions on people’s movement. Already, China has ended its mass testing programme.
Clearly, the East Asian country will no longer strictly put in place preventive measures to stop the spread of virus; it is allowing Chinese nationals to move and travel as per their wishes, which in turn will prove dangerous for the world. There is an apprehension that a more 2020 like situation would emerge when Coronavirus from Wuhan spread across the length and breadth of the world. Virus infected Chinese travelled in planes to different corners of the globe.
Several countries such as the US, Japan, Korea, the European Union have asked Chinese travellers this time to come along with negative reports if they wish to visit these countries. It has angered China. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said, “Covid response measures need to be science-based and proportionate. They should not be used for political manipulation, there should not be discriminatory measures against certain countries, and measures should not affect normal travel and people-to-people exchange and cooperation.” That means Beijing has no intention to see through reason and prevent the spread of virus.