Some scientists have expressed concern that the unprecedented wave of infection with the emerging coronavirus that is hitting China raises the possibility that it will result in new strains or “something different”, from what we have known during the past three years.
The virus is spreading very quickly among the population of the country, the most numerous in the world, with 1.4 billion people, since the lifting of strict health measures related to the “zero Covid” policy on the seventh of this December.
And the Associated Press quoted Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, as saying that “China may be the place where we are witnessing a new variant, with a large population and limited immunity.”
Many hospitals are overwhelmed with patient arrivals and a shortage of anti-fever medicines.
Some local governments have begun to publish estimates of the size of the epidemic, despite the announcement by the National Health Commission in China, on Sunday, that it will no longer publish its controversial data on Covid, which has been criticized a lot recently because it does not reflect the severity of the current epidemic wave hitting the country. Without providing any explanation.
And the health authorities in Zhejiang (east), south of Shanghai, announced on Sunday that the number of daily infections has now exceeded the one million threshold in this province, which has a population of 65 million.
Half a million people are infected every day in the city of Qingdao (east), which has a population of 10 million, according to a municipal official quoted by official newspapers this week.
In the capital, Beijing, on Saturday, the authorities spoke of a “large number of injured” and called for “everything possible to improve the recovery rate and reduce the death rate.”
However, many elderly people, who are most vulnerable to the virus, have not been fully vaccinated.
Vaccinations have accelerated in recent weeks, according to the National Health Commission, with a total of 23.5 million doses administered between December 8 and 23, compared to 3.3 million in the previous two weeks, a sevenfold increase.
But local vaccines have proven less effective against serious infections than Western vaccines that rely on mRNA technology, and many of them were administered more than a year ago, which means that immunity has diminished.
“When we see large waves of infection, new variants often follow,” Ray said.
About three years ago, the original version of the Corona virus spread from China to the rest of the world, which mutated into the Delta strain, then Omicron, which resulted in other sub-mutants that are still circulating today.
“Adept at evading immunity”
And Shan Lu Liu, an expert in viruses at Ohio State University, says that several Omicron variants found in China have been discovered, including BF.7, which he describes as “very adept at evading immunity,” indicating that he believes this is The mutant is driving the current high wave of infections.
Worryingly, experts believe that there is no inherent biological reason for the virus to become milder over time, especially with weak immunity, which raises questions about whether the potential new variant may cause more severe disease.
“A lot of the moderation that we’ve seen over the past six to 12 months in many parts of the world has been due to immunity built up either through vaccination or infection, not because of a change in the severity of the virus,” Ray said.
In China, most people have never been exposed to the coronavirus, and local vaccines rely on older technology that produces fewer antibodies than mRNA vaccines.
And last Wednesday, the World Health Organization called on China to accelerate the pace of vaccination of the most vulnerable population in light of the sharp rise in Covid-19 infections, asking it for more detailed information on the extent of the epidemic, and expressed its grave concern about the situation.
Xu Wenbo, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that his country’s plan to track the virus and how the strains develop will depend on collecting samples from patients from 3 hospitals in each province, especially those with severe disease and those who die from infection.
He said that 50 out of the 130 Omicron clones discovered in China led to the outbreak, adding that the country is creating a national genetic database to monitor how different strains have evolved and the potential effects on public health.
“So far, information from China on viral genetic sequences is limited,” said Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “We don’t know everything that’s going on, but it’s clear that the epidemic is not over yet.”