Fully opening Western countries will exert great pressure on China on COVID-19 prevention: top epidemiologist from Chinese CDC
Published: Jan 23, 2022 12:51 PM Updated: Jan 23, 2022 12:46 PM
Wu Zunyou, China's CDC chief epidemiologist  Photo: cnsphoto

Wu Zunyou, China's CDC chief epidemiologist Photo: cnsphoto

The new Omicron variant is "more contagious" because it can infect people even if they have been vaccinated and the variant's mortality rate is higher than influenza, chief expert from Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, noting that if the Western world fully opens, it will exert great pressure on China. 

Wu Zunyou, the CDC chief expert, said in an interview published on Saturday that the world still has limited understanding about the new variant. Vaccines have very limited effect on Omicron, apart from preventing severe symptoms, said Wu.

Omicron is unlikely to be the last variant the world will see of this novel coronavirus, Wu said. He noted that the coronavirus could not become a flu as many have predicted, as mortality rate of the variant is higher than that of influenza. Moreover, influenza affects mainly throat, while coronavirus causes lower respiratory tract diseases, affecting lungs and other organs. 

As China faces another round of flare-ups with both the Delta and Omicron variants, Wu said that the situation is similar as that of the winter of 2020, as the disease is more likely to spread in winter. 

The flare-ups are caused by imported cases, as the surging cases outside China increase the difficulties and risks for China to prevent cases coming from abroad, Wu said.

He said that some Western countries were failing to control the spreading, said that countries such as the US and the UK do not put travel restrictions which raised the risk of spreading Omicron across the world. 

Wu said that most of the imported COVID-19 cases in China come from the US. Although the new variant was discovered in southern Africa, countries such as the US and the UK are the "amplifiers" in spreading the virus. 

The expert said it is necessary to adjust COVID-19 prevention policies, yet when and how are unclear, because there is no "deadly blow" measure against the virus. For example, there is no vaccine or medicine that can control the infection once and for all.

When asked whether it is possible for China to open its borders in 2022, Wu said that past experience shows that when vaccination rate reaches a certain point, herd immunity forms, then the borders could be opened. Yet such understanding was challenged by Omicron, which proved that the existing vaccines are incapable of fending off the new variant. 

He noted that Western countries have high tolerance toward the virus, yet for China it is hard to say, as the country adopts very different policy that is named dynamic zero-COVID.

Further analysis and observations are needed about whether it is suitable, when and how to open the borders, said the epidemiologist. 

Some scientists from Western countries believe COVID-19 policies can be loosened after the spring of 2022. Wu said it is possible for those countries, as loosen it or not does not affect their epidemic control situation much. Yet when they are fully opened, China will face greater pressure, and further studies are needed on how China will cope with such changes. 

Global Times