China confident amid global Omicron rampage

By Fan Anqi, Cui Fandi and Zhang Changyue (Global Times) 09:00, December 20, 2021

A staff member checks the packaging of the Sinopharm vaccines in Beijing, capital of China, May 31, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

A staff member checks the packaging of the Sinopharm vaccines in Beijing, capital of China, May 31, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

With the Omicron variant already rampaging through some 89 countries and being found in three Chinese mainland cities, more nations have decided to drop their "living with the virus" policies and tightened up pandemic control measures, including canceling public celebration events and reintroducing travel restrictions amid the upcoming New Year holidays.

Facing grave challenges posed by Omicron from overseas, Chinese public health experts expressed confidence in reining in the new variant, with China's inactivated vaccines potentially being more effective compared with other types, as well as the mature epidemic response mechanism established across the country.

As two of the most important holidays for Chinese people's family reunions - the New Year and the Spring Festival - draw near, several cities and regions in China have announced policy encouraging residents to stay put during the two holidays. But unlike last year, this year's proposals have been more targeted, considerate, and suitable to local conditions.

In response, at a press conference held by the State Council for national anti-epidemic work on Saturday, Liang Wannian, head of the COVID-19 response expert panel of China's National Health Commission, advised medium- and high-risk areas, ports and border cities, and cities that will host major public activities to take strict epidemic prevention and control measures. Other regions should adopt flexible and effective policies based on local conditions rather than adopt a "one-size-fits-all" approach, he stressed.

Experts suggested that China's dynamic-zero COVID-19 strategy is a more responsible, efficient approach to deal with the virus, no matter what variants hit China, which will not only protect people's health but also guarantee people's normal daily lives.

Graver challenges worldwide

The Omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

Based on current epidemiological data, the likelihood of Omicron replacing Delta as the next mainstream pandemic strain in the short term is high, an immunology expert told Global Times on Sunday on condition of anonymity. However, further information needs to be gathered regarding the specifics of its infectiousness and lethality.

In response to the looming dangers, many countries have decided to tighten their pandemic control measures and reintroduce travel restrictions since the Omicron was first detected in South Africa last month.

US top federal health officials warned that the Omicron variant rapidly spreading in the country could peak in a massive wave of infections as soon as January, according to new modeling analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington Post reported.

On Friday, the UK saw another record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive day, with more than 93,000 infections confirmed, BBC reported on Saturday.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared a "major incident" due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK capital, as London had seen more than 26,000, the largest number of new cases since the pandemic began, in the past 24 hours.

Paris on Saturday also said it was cancelling its traditional New Year fireworks as Europe braced for tighter curbs to rein in the spread of the new coronavirus strain fueling yet another spike in COVID-19 cases worldwide, France24 reported.

On Friday, Germany designated France and Denmark as high risk zones, and said it would impose quarantine measures on unvaccinated travelers from its two neighbors, starting from Sunday.

South Korea said on Thursday it will reinstate stricter social distancing rules, a month and a half after easing them under a 'living with COVID-19' policy, as the number of new infections and serious cases spirals, Reuters reported.

Changsha in Central China's Hunan Province has become the third mainland city to report Omicron infections following Guangzhou and Tianjin. The risks from overseas, however, will not have a major impact on China, experts said.

Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, told the Global Times in a previous interview that China's widely applied inactivated vaccines are better in terms of dealing with virus variants compared with mRNA vaccines, including Omicron.

"Because China's vaccines are based on the principle of inactivating the complete virus sequence, the human body can recognize the complete virus sequence after receiving an inactivated vaccine. As long as the virus retains parts of its original characteristics, it can be recognized by the body."

According to a latest study by Sinovac, one of China's leading inactivated vaccine developers, the results showed three shots of Sinovac's vaccine can lead to a 94 percent neutralizing antibody rate against the Omicron variant, while the rate after two shots is 35 percent, the Global Times learned from the company.

On the efficacy of vaccines against the new variant, experts noted that most academic opinion still holds that the current vaccine is effective against the Omicron variant.

Beijing on Sunday rolled out epidemic control measures for the upcoming holidays, noting that it encourages Beijing residents to stay in Beijing unless travel is necessary, but will avoid the "one-size-fits-all" approach, and ensure those who wish to leave the city can do so.

"College students and migrant workers have been studying and working hard for a year, and are looking forward to going back home during the holidays; For such groups of people with strong needs, relevant departments will do their best to ensure the transport, ticketing, and other supplies," read the notice issued by China's capital.

It added that working units should grant employees flexible leave so that they can stagger their return trips to Beijing.

Many provinces including Heilongjiang, Yunnan, Jiangxi, and Henan have issued regulations for inbound travelers from low-risk areas to only provide negative nucleic acid test results and green health codes, removing requirements for mandatory quarantines as laid out in the previous year.

Experts noted that the more targeted "stay put" policies reflect China's maturity and confidence in dealing with the protracted pandemic and the new variant.

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital, told the Global Times that China's approach to dealing with the virus has gradually moved from strict to appropriate and from massive to targeted, illustrating that the country's response mechanism has grasped the feature of virus transmission.

"Therefore, there is no need to implement an overall 'halt' on passenger flow during the Spring Festival, but more accurate measures that are suitable to each region's conditions that not only cater to the needs of the people but prevent large-scale virus spread due to personnel flow," Wang said.

For key regions with high infection risks or that urgently need to shield from the virus surge, such as cities hosting the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, measures for upcoming holidays will be stricter.

Ningbo in East China's Zhejiang Province, a major port city and manufacturing base in China, urged local residents to stay put during the Spring Festival holidays, as the province faces severe COVID-19 spikes that reported 475 cases since the new round of outbreak began in December 5.

To meet workers' needs in Ningbo during the holidays, companies are encouraged to take measures such as offering special subsidies of up to 500 yuan per person, guaranteeing accommodation and improving meals provided to the staff.

Some 50 days before the opening of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, the Economic and Technological Development Zone of Zhangjiakou, where the Games will also be held, announced on Thursday that leaders and staff of local government-related institutions and state-owned enterprises should stay within the city during the Chinese New Year.

They should also dissuade relatives and friends from medium- and high-risk areas from coming to Zhangjiakou, said the announcement.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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