Explained: Is China a threat to the world? Beijing’s new covid wave a ‘wild card’ warn experts

Just a week back  WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had expressed hope that the COVID-19 emergency might be ending, but turns out that “the end is (not) in sight”. Global health experts have warned that the sudden surge China is experiencing represents a “wild card” and that we may be in a different phase of the pandemic.

This comes as around the globe a potential end of the COVID-19 pandemic phase had raised hopes. In September Tedros had said that the “end is in sight” for the pandemic, but talking to the press, last week WHO Emergencies chief Mike Ryan said “I think the world still has… work to do. The job is not done.”

Talking to Reuters, Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, who is part of the WHO committee tasked with advising on the status of the COVID emergency said “The question is whether you can call it post-pandemic when such a significant part of the world is actually just entering its second wave.”

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“It’s clear that we are in a very different phase [of the pandemic], but in my mind, that pending wave in China is a wild card,” she added.

Koopmans and her fellow advisory committee members are scheduled to submit their recommendation regarding the emergency status of their pandemic to the WHO chief in January.

This emergency designation is the global health agency’s highest level of alert associated with disease outbreaks and is put in place to help international organisations prioritise funding and assistance for research, treatments and vaccine.

Experts have also warned that a domestic spread of the virus in China or elsewhere carries with it the risk of mutation. While currently, Chinese data accessed by WHO and the virus database GISAID shows the variants circulating in the nation are Omicron and its subvariants, in the absence of full data, the picture isn’t clear. 

Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College, London says that “The bottom line is, it’s not clear [if] the wave in China is variant-driven, or whether it just represents a breakdown of containment.” 

Another expert,  an infectious disease specialist and WHO advisor  David Heymann warned “I don’t think anybody can predict for sure whether we could see new variants that might be a concern to the rest of the world, but clearly the world should be concerned if people are becoming sick and dying [in China].” 

Speaking to BBC epidemiologist Wu Zunyou has warned that China might experience three waves of Covid infection this winter. As per his estimates the current spike might continue till mid-January, a second spike can happen around the Lunar New Year celebrations that begin on January 21, and the third wave could happen between late February and mid-March when people return to the office.

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at China’s Peking University First Hospital has also warned that the nation may face a surge in severe COVID-19 cases cases in the next two weeks.

“We must act quickly and prepare fever clinics, emergency and severe treatment resources,” said Wang.

Last week China began dismantling its stringent zero-Covid regulations that have been in place for close to three years and since then the nation has reported a significant rise in its number of cases and deaths, which given its 1.4 billion are low, but remain alarming.

(With inputs from agencies)

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