Abandoning zero-COVID policy in China without safeguards puts 1.5 million lives at risk – study

A delivery man standing on a scooter looks over barriers in a closed residential area during the lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Shanghai, China May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Aly song

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  • Safeguards include strengthening vaccinations, access to health care
  • “Zero-COVID” stance key to defeating virus – Chinese advisers
  • Most countries are now living with the virus for economic reasons

SHANGHAI/LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) – China risks just over 1.5 million COVID deaths if it abandons its strict zero COVID policy without any safeguards such as stepped up vaccinations and access to treatments, according to new modeling by scientists in China and the United States.

The warning follows several reports recently released by senior health advisers in China that said the zero-COVID approach remains key to beating the pandemic and buying time for mitigation measures.

China has stuck to its zero COVID strategy even as most other countries that once championed the policy have turned to living with the virus in order to reopen their economies and restore individual freedoms.

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Under zero-COVID, authorities lock down large areas of population to stamp out viral spread in response to any coronavirus outbreak, even if only a small number of people test positive.

Shanghai, a city of 25 million, has been on lockdown for nearly six weeks as it battles China’s biggest coronavirus outbreak to date, amid growing anger from residents and growing economic pressure. L2N2WL041

But new research published in Nature Medicine suggests that while abandoning ‘zero-COVID’ altogether could be risky for public health, the impact could be significantly mitigated by focusing on other interventions like vaccinating the elderly. . https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-022-01855-7

“The level of immunity induced by the March 2022 vaccination campaign would be insufficient to prevent a wave of Omicron,” the authors write.

They project that peak intensive care demand would be more than 15 times greater than capacity, causing around 1.5 million deaths, based on global data collected on the severity of the variant.

However, the researchers said the death toll could be drastically reduced if the focus were on vaccination – only about 50% of over-80s in China are vaccinated – as well as providing antivirals while maintaining certain restrictions. Read more

The main authors of the article are from Fudan University in China, supported by researchers from the National Institutes of Health in the United States.

“The availability of vaccines and antiviral drugs presents an opportunity to move away from zero-COVID. I can’t think what to expect now,” said Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong familiar with the study.

He warned that the transition must be gradual.

But government health advisers in China are sticking to zero-COVID for now.

In correspondence published last Friday by peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, a team of medical experts from Shanghai said the city’s vital role in China’s national economy made the lockdown inevitable.

“The spread of the virus to other places…could have consequences of unimaginable gravity,” said the team, which includes Zhang Wenhong, an adviser to Shanghai authorities on the treatment of COVID-19. .

Shanghai’s ‘dynamic’ zero COVID policies would ‘overcome weak links in the immunological barrier in populations across the country’, they said, pointing out that around 49 million Chinese people aged 60 and over were still not vaccinated.

Zero-COVID was still needed to prevent a ‘race’ on China’s health resources, according to a separate comment published in the official journal of the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control and co-authored by the senior government adviser for health Liang Wannian.

“The dynamic COVID-zero strategies adopted by China have bought a valuable window of time for the future,” he said, adding that the country should “seize the opportunity” to develop more drugs and vaccines. .

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Reporting by David Stanway and Jennifer Rigby, editing by Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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