Covid: how China allowed itself to be cornered

A study by Chinese epidemiologists shows that if China reverse the policy covid zero, the wave of infections omicron strain and its variants can cause 1.5 million deaths. And the number of patients who would need to be admitted to intensive care units could be 15 times greater than the capacity of the local hospital system. At a time of popular protests, the country is cornered by covid as the world returns to normalcy. It is worth understanding how China got itself into this situation.

In the first few weeks after SARS-CoV-2 emerged, it became clear that this was not a virus that could simply be suppressed by isolating cases, as has been done with the ebola🇧🇷 For this reason, the problem for governments was to decide between two strategies: let it spread in a slow and controlled manner, so as not to overload the hospital system (the so-called flattening of the peak of infections) or try to keep the number of cases close to zero with drastic isolation measures.

If the government believed that an effective vaccine would be developed quickly, the correct thing would be to adopt a zero covid policy, avoiding the maximum number of deaths until the vaccine is available. Then he would vaccinate the entire population and relax the policy. That’s what the New Zealand did. But it is good to remember that at that time there was the possibility of not being able to obtain a vaccine or its development and tests taking many years. In this case, the right thing would be to control the spread of the virus and, little by little, allow immunity in the population to be created by the infection and not by the vaccine (this was the policy adopted by Germany and England).

At a time of popular protests, the country is cornered by covid as the world returns to normality
At a time of popular protests, the country is cornered by covid as the world returns to normality

Although, at the beginning of the pandemic, no one knew if and when we would have a vaccine, they were developed in just over a year. They hit the countries that locked down and immediately vaccinated with the best vaccines. They suffered the fewest deaths per capita.

And China? China adopted a policy of radical containment that lasts until today. Cities are closed when cases arise: mass testing, people isolated at home, travel prohibited. So far it has worked and cases and deaths in China are few compared to its huge population. And since vaccines appeared, the Chinese population has been vaccinated. By April, 91.4% of all people over 3 years old had been fully vaccinated. In addition, 53.7% of the population had received a booster dose.

Despite these vaccination rates, when the Omicron variant arrives in a Chinese city, the problem is enormous. Scientists believe that the population’s vaccine immunity is not capable of holding back Omicron. And the reason is simple: China was one of the few countries that never used mRNA vaccines. It is known that vaccines like Coronavac, which were already less effective for the original strain, protect very little against Omicron and variants. The result is that today a large part of the population is susceptible to Sars-CoV-2. And that’s why China is cornered. If it continues with the zero covid policy, its economy will continue to suffer and the government will have to face the wrath of the population that observes the world without a mask. If you relax, there will be millions of dead and hospitals without service capacity.

But the interesting thing is that the Chinese scientists who did this study proposed some solutions and modeled six effects. With the exception of a single proposal, all the others, which include vaccinating 100% of the elderly, partial isolation and closing schools, do not manage to reduce the impact of an Omicron outbreak by 50%. Just vaccinating 100% of the population with an 89% effective vaccine could reduce deaths from 1.5 million to 200,000 and ICU admissions from 2.5 million to approximately 100,000. That is, only by vaccinating the entire population with mRNA vaccines can China break the deadlock. Everything indicates that China will have to bow to Western technology. In this respect, countries like Brazil, which started immunization with inactivated virus vaccines and then migrated to mRNA vaccines, were right.


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