Despite two confirmed cases of the heavily mutated variant in Hong Kong, Chinese public health experts have expressed a confidence in the country’s existing border control measures.
Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert in Shanghai and arguably China’s most trusted voice on Covid-19, said the new variant would have “no major impact on China at this time.”
“China’s current rapid response and dynamic clearance strategy is capable of dealing with all types of new coronavirus variants,” Zhang wrote in a social media post Sunday.
And at a conference in Guangzhou over the weekend, Zhong Nanshan, a top respiratory disease expert and government adviser, said China has no plans to take any “major action” in response to the Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, in Chinese state media the prevailing mood is one of apparent vindication. As much of the world started to reopen and learn to live with Covid, China dug its heels and looked increasingly isolated by comparison. That isolation is now being extolled as a uniquely Chinese advantage in the fight against the new variant.
“Major Western countries have cut air links with countries such as South Africa, showing that these countries are frightened. Establishing an immune shield based on the vaccine alone has actually proved to be a risky route, and can even be said to have failed to a large extent,” the Global Times, a state-run nationalist tabloid, said in an editorial Sunday.
“China’s dynamic zero-case route has been criticized in the West in many ways. However, if the Omicron variant launches a new wave of attack, it is China that will be best able to block its invasion,” said the editorial, which went on to declare China “a true impregnable fortress against the spread of the virus in the world today.”
Nevertheless, the growing global concern and spate of travel bans sparked by the Omicron variant is most likely to lend domestic public support for the Chinese government to maintain its zero-tolerance approach on Covid for as long as it sees fit.
The ruling Communist Party has tied the zero-Covid policy to its political legitimacy, touting it as evidence of the supposed superiority of its one-party system over Western democracies, especially the United States. But the strategy is also driven by pure necessity, because China simply could not afford to open up without more efficient vaccines or treatments.
In the report published in China CDC Weekly by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the mathematicians assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as countries like the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Israel.
If China were to adopt the pandemic strategy of the US, its daily new cases would reach at least 637,155, the study found.
“Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace ‘open-up’ strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain western countries.”
It concluded, “more efficient vaccinations or more specific treatment, preferably the combination of both, are needed before entry-exit quarantine measures and other Covid-19 response strategies in China can be safely lifted.”
While acknowledging that there were “some different opinions” toward the approach among the public, Wu stressed that zero-tolerance containment and border restrictions are absolutely necessary for the coming months.