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China prepares for a new wave of covid; XBB variant vaccines on the way

Chinese authorities are rushing to release vaccines to fight a continuing new wave of coronavirus that is expected to peak in June and infect up to 65 million people a week, as new XBB variants of the virus evolve to overcome accumulated immunity after China. abrupt exit from its “zero covid” policy last year.

Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, said on Monday that two new vaccines for omicron XBB subvariants (including XBB.1.9.1, XBB.1.5 and XBB.1.16) had received initial approval, according to the state media. Zhong, speaking at a biotechnology forum in Guangzhou, said three to four more vaccines are expected to be approved soon, but did not provide further details.

The new outbreak could be the biggest wave of infections since China dismantled its strict zero covid regime last winter, causing up to 85% of the population to become infected at the time.

Why China Abandoned Its ‘Zero Covid’ Policy So Suddenly – And Disastrously

In the United States, the new variants have led to an increase in infections, but the end of the public health emergency was still declared on May 11, although experts have not ruled out that new variants could trigger an increase. new wave of infections in the coming years.

While Chinese officials say the new wave will be less severe, public health experts say an aggressive vaccine recall program and ready supply of antivirals to hospitals are needed to avoid another spike in deaths among the country’s large elderly population.

“The number of infections will be lower. Severe cases will certainly be fewer and deaths will be fewer, but it could still be a large number,” said Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health. “Even when we think it’s a milder wave, it could still have quite a big impact on the health of the community.”

The variants have caused an increase in the number of cases since last month, with covid overtaking influenza as the most common infectious disease in the last two weeks of April, according to the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention. .

Health officials reassured the public that reinfections were showing milder symptoms and promised that hospitals would not be overwhelmed like they were last winter. Some hospitals have advised residents to wear masks and elderly and immunocompromised people to avoid crowded places.

Yet restrictions like those seen in the zero covid era, when China tried to prevent all infections, have not been reinstated and most residents appear to be carrying on with life as usual.

“I feel like the impact wasn’t that big,” said Olivia Zhang, 33, who works at an amusement park in Beijing and has seen friends and co-workers get re-infected. “But they will only be out for a short time before returning to work. No one is afraid to be around them.

Tan Xiang, 32, who works at a state-owned company in Shenzhen, said his company does not encourage staff members to stay at home if they are infected. Their salary will be reduced depending on the time they take off.

“We are all going to work as usual. No one regulates us. In the subway, in office buildings and malls, many people are not wearing face masks,” Tan said, adding that those around him who were infected during this wave did not show. serious symptoms.

There have been complaints online that a university in Nanjing was forcing students who tested positive to quarantine in dormitories. Other students have posted online that they have self-quarantined at school so as not to infect family members at home.

Others expressed their resignation. On the Xiaohongshu, or “Little Red Book” platform, a commenter wrote, “I dodged the pandemic for three years. I dodged a huge epidemic. In the end, I was caught in the second wave. I used to think I was one of those super immune humans destined to save mankind. Looks like I was wrong.

Lyric Li in Seoul and Pei-Lin Wu and Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.


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