S China’s Guangzhou is expected to return to pre-epidemic conditions by first half 2023: Zhong Nanshan
Published: Dec 11, 2022 12:23 PM Updated: Dec 11, 2022 12:18 PM
Zhong Nanshan Photo: VCG

 China's top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan Photo: VCG

The first wave of COVID-19 infections in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, is likely to peak between mid-early January and mid-February in 2023, and t local society will return to pre-epidemic conditions in the first half of 2023, China's top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan said on Friday.

The senior health official and his team made the judgment during an interview on Friday, during which he also mentioned that the focus moving forward should be put on preventing severe illness caused by the virus, and strengthening the COVID-19 vaccination.

Zhong stressed that although domestic vaccines are slightly less effective in preventing infection, they have fewer side effects and are safer than overseas equivalents, while both are equally effective in preventing severe illness.

It usually takes two weeks for booster shots to work, which will be of great benefit in preventing large-scale transmission during the Spring Festival travel rush when large numbers of people travel between parts of the country. There is an urgent need to scale up vaccination across the country, Zhong added.

Omicron is not scary, as about 99 percent of those infected with the virus can fully recover within seven to 10 days, Zhong noted. He added that an analysis of data from major cities in China has found that the severity rate of the Omicron variant was less than 1 percent and the fatality rate less than 0.1 percent indicating that Omicron's pathogenicity has been significantly reduced.

Renowned Chinese epidemiologist Li Lanjuan echoed the Zhong's opinion, saying there is no need to panic over Omicron. Both Li and Zhong believed that asymptomatic infection is not a disease, and silent carriers are not patients.

Zhong said that the COVID-19 epidemic is not over yet, but he stressed that the pathogenicity of the Omicron variant has been greatly reduced. "This is the trend of the future evolution of the coronavirus," he said.

According to data released by Singapore, the case fatality rate of the Omicron variant in the epidemic period from January to November this year was 0.45‰, much lower than the 3.6‰ case fatality rate of the Delta variant in the period from June 2021 to January 2022.

Li Yimin, a member of Zhong Nanshan's team and chief physician for the Department of Intensive Care Medicine at the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, said that in the current wave of cases in Guangzhou, the proportion of severe cases caused by the coronavirus is not large and pneumonia caused by Omicron infection is also very rare, mainly manifested by the aggravation of the underlying disease.

Zhong said it is not appropriate to use fatality rates from other regions to estimate that hundreds of thousands of people will die in the Chinese mainland. "I do not believe this will happen. The vaccination rate in the Chinese mainland has reached 68.86 percent, which is not enough but can largely prevent large-scale deaths," he said.

Zhong also called on respiratory physicians and researchers to take responsibility for helping optimize national policies so that the country can "prevent the epidemic, stabilize the economy and secure development."

China has adjusted and optimized its COVID-19 measures over recent days, including allowing asymptomatic carriers and patients with mild symptoms and those who meet certain requirements to quarantine at home. The adjustments have led to a degree of concern among the public about whether the risk of infection might be higher than before.

According to media reports, average daily sales of COVID-19 antigen self-testing kits have increased more than 400 folds compared with November.

A total of 2,338 confirmed cases and 8,477 asymptomatic infections were reported on the Chinese mainland on Saturday, with 39,391 confirmed cases still under medical observation and treatment nationwide as of the same day, according to the National Health Commission.

Global Times