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The number of people infected with the new coronavirus in China has skyrocketed, and experts are worried about the emergence of new variants that are more pathogenic and lethal

Profile photo - Commuters wearing masks rush to work during rush hour traffic on the streets of Beijing on December 20, 2022. After the sudden release of the strict lockdown policy that has been in place for nearly 3 years, the number of new crown infections in many places in China has skyrocketed, and a variant of the Omicron virus has emerged
Profile photo – Commuters wearing masks rush to work during rush hour traffic on the streets of Beijing on December 20, 2022. After the sudden release of the strict lockdown policy that has been in place for nearly 3 years, the number of new crown infections in many places in China has skyrocketed, and a variant of the Omicron virus has emerged

WASHINGTON — As the Chinese government suddenly loosened the extreme epidemic prevention and control measures of “dynamic zeroing” without warning, preparation and planning, the number of positive infected patients across China increased exponentially almost exponentially, making it difficult to find a dose such as rapid test kits and fever-reducing medicine. The biggest concern of epidemic prevention experts now is that the virus may appear with completely new mutations and form variant strains with stronger pathogenicity and lethality.

The scientists point out that the new variant could be a combination of all previous strains, or it could be an entirely new strain.

“China has a very large population and limited herd immunity. This seems to be the hotbed of outbreaks of new variants that we may see,” Dr. Stuart Roy, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Each new infection has the potential to give the virus a chance to mutate. China, with a population of 1.4 billion and abandoning the “dynamic zero” extreme epidemic prevention and control measures, is currently in the midst of a new outbreak, which is why the possibility of new mutations and new variants of the virus is very high.

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Although the overall vaccination rate in China is relatively high, the vaccination rate of booster shots and the vaccination rate of the elderly is not high. China’s domestic vaccines are less effective in preventing severe diseases than Western vaccines, and many Chinese vaccinated more than a year ago, and the effectiveness of vaccines has long since disappeared.

“Every time we see a new wave of outbreaks, we often see new variants emerge after that,” Roy said.

The lobby of Chongqing Fifth People's Hospital was converted into an emergency room
The lobby of Chongqing Fifth People’s Hospital was converted into an emergency room

Scientists note that when the coronavirus first spread around the world from China three years ago, we saw the Delta variant, followed by the Omicron variant, which still poses a health hazard in many parts of the world.

Liu Shanlu, a virus research expert at The Ohio State University’s Institute of Infectious Diseases, told The Associated Press that China has detected several Omicron variants, including the BF.7 variant. Liu Shanlu pointed out that BF.7 is very good at evading immunity and is also the main strain currently ravaging all over China.

Medical experts believe that countries like China, where parts of the population are fully vaccinated, will increase the pressure to mutate the virus. Roy of Johns Hopkins University said the virus is like a boxer, constantly “learning to dodge your opponent’s blows and trying to get around it all.” ”

What is unclear is whether these new strains are more virulent and cause more severe disease if new variants emerge. Medical experts point out that there is no biological reason to believe that the virus will make it less lethal over time.

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“The mildness of the virus that we’ve seen around the world over the last six to 12 months is due to cumulative immunity from vaccination or infection, not because of a change in the virus itself,” Roy said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently expressed concern about the severe outbreak in northern China. Baoding and Langfang, near Beijing, have recently seen considerable numbers of critically ill patients, leading to shortages of intensive care units and beds in local hospitals and the medical staff to care for them.

Xu Wenbo, director of the Institute of Virus Prevention and Control at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news conference on Tuesday that China plans to collect virus samples from severely ill and fatal patients in hospitals in various provinces and track and study the mutation of the virus. Of the 130 Omicron variants currently measured in China, about 50 have contributed to outbreaks, he said. China is building a national genetic database to “monitor in real time” changes in different variants and their impact on public health.

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