Coexistence with virus the West's choice out of no choice; China still has better choice: Hong Kong professional
Published: Apr 09, 2022 02:03 PM Updated: Apr 10, 2022 07:55 AM
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Lo Wing-hung

"'Lying flat' is a kind of capitulationism, rather than a scientific decision," said Lo Wing-hung, proprietor of Hong Kong-based newspaper Bastille Post, during an interview with the Global Times. 

While the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is encountering a fifth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, Shanghai is also struggling to contain its outbreak. In the wake of Omicron, which is more transmissible and leads to more silent virus carriers, negative voices calling for people to "lie flat" in the face of the variant are growing.

However, Lo told the Global Times that the West chose to "lie flat" as they failed to combat the virus and were left with no other choice. But China still has the route of dynamic-zero COVID, which is the most scientific and effective way to save the most lives at the least cost.

As the pandemic has lasted for more than two years, both Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland have felt some level of "tiredness" in anti-epidemic work. Lo said that for those people who are advocating "coexistence" with the virus, he has two questions: How many people will die if China "lie flat?" And are we ready to accept that cost?

He noted that so far he hasn't seen any convincing evidence proving that coexistence with the novel coronavirus would not lead to mass deaths. 

Some data instead showed that there were more deaths from Omicron than when Delta dominated.  

For example, in the UK, from August to October 2021, when the Delta variant was dominant, the death rate was 16 per 100,000; from November 2021 to January 2022, when Omicron dominated, the death rate was 22 per 100,000. 

The situation is similar in the US. The death rate was 40 per 100,000 during August and October 2021, and it was 42 per 100,000 from November 2021 to January 2022.  

Some Western countries have decided to coexist with the virus with an excuse that "Omicron leads to less severe cases and deaths" despite the increasing infections. 

In Hong Kong, some experts said "Omicron is just a big flu." They think that when calculating the death rate, the Hong Kong government should not use total confirmed cases as denominator, but should use the total infections. For example, if the government uses a total of 4 million infections - predicted by a model set up by the University of Hong Kong - as the denominator, the death rate would decrease to 0.18 percent, which is only a little higher than death rate from flu in the previous flu seasons.

However, there are also voices spreading in Hong Kong that "Omicron is not severe, the pandemic is natural selection, and the weak are destined be sifted out."       

But Lo told the Global Times that this is misleading. "I have checked the seasonal flu deaths in Hong Kong in different years. In the year of flu outbreak, the number of deaths due to the flu in a year is probably more than 100 to 300. The number reached 352 from 2018-19. Now 300 people have died [due to the COVID-19] in Hong Kong in one or two days. The cumulative death of this round of epidemic has exceeded 8,400. Some people said the COVID-19 is like the flu, but I don't agree at all."

According to the report of relevant departments of the HKSAR government, as of April 7, the fifth wave of the epidemic in Hong Kong has infected more than 1.17 million people and caused a total of 8,430 deaths, with a case fatality rate of 0.72 percent.

As a Hong Kong resident, Lo has seen the parents of three of his friends die recently due to COVID-19. "I've never heard of friends' relatives die from the flu, but now people around us are dying from COVID-19," Lo said, adding that the COVID virus is still very dangerous for seniors who aren't vaccinated. Statistics in Hong Kong show that the death rate of infected people over 80 who have not been vaccinated exceeds 15 percent.

Some countries have realized that the "lie flat" approach facing the COVID-19 is wrong. German Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on April 4 announced that from May 1, Germany will no longer require people to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19, but the country had made a U-turn less than 48 hours later. "Coronavirus is not a cold. That is why there must continue to be isolation after an infection," Lauterbach said on Twitter, adding he had made a mistake by suggesting an end to mandatory quarantine.

In the case of the failure of the anti-epidemic situation in the West, there is no choice for them but to "lie flat," and they then portray the approach as a pleasant thing. We should not simply and impulsively learn from the West, as we still have better choices, Lo said, adding that "dynamic zero" is still the most scientific epidemic prevention strategy in the world. It not only minimizes the cost, but more importantly, it attaches importance to the value of each person's life. 

As for the claim that "the lethality of future mutant viruses will be lower than that of Omicron," Lo noted that this is only an assumption, not a reality.

"Be wary, not impulsive. I understand the feeling that 'it's been exhausting to fight the virus, and we really want to get out of the closed rooms.' Hong Kong residents are experiencing the same difficulties, but this is a matter of human life, and decision-making should depend on data and science," Lo said.

 Lo told the Global Times that "lying flat" is not a scientific and responsible approach. "We should not surrender just because the epidemic prevention is temporarily broken, otherwise it will cost a lot of lives."