Could US pandemic get more lethal in the first month of 2022?
Viewing raging Omicron as flu, overconfidence on vaccines proved mistaken
Published: Jan 03, 2022 10:21 PM
A street performer waits for customers next to a mobile COVID-19 testing site on Times Square in New York, the United States, Dec.Photo:Xinhua

A street performer waits for customers next to a mobile COVID-19 testing site on Times Square in New York, the United States, Dec.Photo:Xinhua

 When Americans in New York, Boston, Las Vegas and elsewhere were celebrating the New Year with shouting, kissing and dancing while ignoring health experts' advice to wear masks and keep social distance, the epidemic in the US is riding a roller coaster going up at speed, breaking daily records in case numbers and leaving many to wondering when this latest wave will peak, and how high it will be.  

Despite the explosion in the number of COVID-19 cases, cancelation of thousands of flights, health experts' warnings have been making headlines, it was not enough to stop Americans celebrating. 

Health experts in the US and China said that the unprecedented surge in daily cases in the US proves that American society - from governments to ordinary people - treating the virus as a bad flu was a big mistake, and overconfidence and over-reliance on vaccines without strict social controls will cost more American lives from COVID-19 and other diseases, as American hospitals become overwhelmed and even paralyzed in the coming days. They predict that US daily cases are likely to surge to 1 million. 

Europe has become a new epicenter, as the past week has witnessed new cases reaching 50 million as 17 European countries broke previous daily records. 

While the US is experiencing an average of 400,000 new daily cases, China with 1.4 billion people is reporting around 100, thanks to its effective "dynamic zero" COVID-19 policy. However, some Western media maliciously hyped or even smeared China's stringent response, saying that people are complaining of being trapped in "endless lockdowns" which comes at huge cost.   

Chinese health experts criticized Western media's malicious hype for playing tricks to divert their residents' dissatisfaction over their governments' failed response, stressing that China's dynamic zero policy not only shielded the country from the raging pandemic, but also bought time for the West to build up its herd immunity, which the West should "thank" China for, instead of being ungrateful. 

Worst yet to come 

On the world's rankings of COVID-19 cases, which some experts called the most "harrowing ranking in 2022," the US tops the list with over 820,000 deaths, exceeding the total number of Americans killed in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Afghanistan and Iraq combined. 

Since December 2021, the US has broken the record for the time taken to reach 1 million new cases from a week to four days, and Chinese experts said it will not be long before it reaches 1 million cases a single day. 

Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times on Monday that the disease is spreading exponentially in the US, and it may take a only few generations of transmission for the number of daily new cases to reach 1 million.

A Beijing-based immunologist told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that the US is likely to report daily new cases of 1 million soon, maintaining that level for a while before starting to drop. 

"Actually, if the US tested the public thoroughly, new daily cases would have already reached about 1 million by now," he said. 

A map of US COVID-19 community transmission categories, published on the website of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on December 29, revealed that the virus had actually engulfed the whole country with 91 percent of Americans living in areas of high community transmission, and only 1 percent living in low transmission areas. 

The shockingly red map also drew concern from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, who tweeted on January 1 that the red map is concerning. "Hope the American people enjoy safety, health and stability in the year 2022," she said.

Top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the US is experiencing "almost a vertical increase" in cases, but the peak may be weeks away. He called the soaring infection rate "really unprecedented." 

On Monday, US media reported that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has contracted COVID-19, making him the latest high-profile US official to test positive for the virus. 

Chen Xi, an assistant professor of public health at Yale University, told the Global Times that many Americans let their guards down and regard the pandemic as a bad flu, so they continued their travel and gathering plans during the holidays even though the highly contagious Omicron variant has been sweeping the entire country. 

He believes that the nationwide shortage of COVID-19 tests that started to get worse since the end of November will get even worse this month as students and families returning from home or holiday travels need to get tested, and test kits are already out of stock in many supermarkets, Chen said. 

What's worse, US hospital systems could be paralyzed by the more contagious Omicron variant, as COVID-19 is increasingly become more contagious although it less likely to cause severe cases, Chen said. He predicted the country will continue experience strained medical resources until the end of February. 

Experts also said the US is too superstitious about vaccines, and ignoring mandate measures will cost more American lives. 

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times on Monday that the US and Europe are too superstitious about vaccines despite the high rate of immune escape capability of the Omicron variant. 

He said the highly contagious Omicron will result in overwhelming hospitalization rates, which will lead to more deaths. Meanwhile, strained medical resources will cause difficulties in treating patients with non-COVID-19 disease, which will lead to the increase in the fatality rate of other diseases, Wang noted. 

The worsening pandemic will further slow the US economy and even stir up more social issues, experts said. 

Megan Ranney, a professor of emergency medicine at Brown University's School of Public Health, told CNN on Friday night that the US economy may shut down because many people were ill. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has announced that three subway lines are suspended.

Should thank China 

Just when most Western countries are engulfed by the Omicron variant, Western media such as CNN and the Guardian are critical of China's dynamic zero COVID-19 policy, accusing the strict policy of forcing millions to be trapped in endless cycles of lockdown and asking China when it will learn from the Western approach of "living with the virus."

It seems to the Western media that China's response is causing more problems than benefits, but Chinese experts said that what China did was extremely meaningful in controlling its domestic flare-ups and saving the world much time for combating the virus and boosting economic recovery, which the West should thank China for. 

Wang said that China's response has resulted in very low costs and losses compared with Europe and the US where overestimating their medical resources strained hospital systems. 

"China's epidemic response bought time for the world with vaccines and research on medicines," the immunologist said, noting human beings are a group that should take responsibility for each other.

If China had given up at the beginning and taken simpler measures like the ones that West is currently adopting, the world economy would be in far worse shape than it is now, he said. 

While calling China's zero COVID-19 policy China's magic bullet for controlling the epidemic, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the end of November 2021 that based on the global average infection rate and fatality rate, China has prevented about 47.84 million infections and 950,000 deaths.

But experts also said that China will continue to stick to the stringent policy for the time being, but it will gradually adjust its policy when China is ready to reopen to the world with enough herd immunity built among its residents, well-prepared medical resources and the easing of world pandemic situations.