How will Omicron COVID variant impact China?

Yang Jian
The new Omicron COVID variant detected in South Africa won't affect China at present, despite its faster spread rates, Shanghai's top coronavirus expert said on Sunday.
Yang Jian
How will Omicron COVID variant impact China?
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Dr Zhang Wenhong, the head of Shanghai's COVID-19 treatment team.

The new Omicron COVID variant detected in South Africa won't affect China at present, despite its faster spread rates, Shanghai's top coronavirus expert said on Sunday.

China's rapid response and dynamic Zero-COVID strategy can cope with all kinds of COVID variants, including the newly popped up Omicron, said Dr Zhang Wenhong, the head of Shanghai's COVID-19 treatment team.

"With science and unity, China can handle the Omicron variant, the same as the contagious Delta variant that we've contained its spread," Zhang said in an article titled "Shanghai enters final stage of epidemic" on his Weibo microblog account.

The World Health Organization has classified the B.1.1.529 variant detected in South Africa as a SARS-CoV-2 "variant of concern," saying it may spread more quickly than other forms. Infections in South Africa had risen steeply in recent weeks, coinciding with detection of the Omicron variant.

Zhang said the variant is believed to have evolved in a patient with immune deficiency, such as HIV/Aids with a chronic Covid-19 infection.

It seems the Omicron has defeated other variants in South Africa, including the Delta, in a short time, due to its large number of mutations, said Zhang.

Zhang said it will take another two weeks to observe more data from global labs to make an accurate judgement on whether the global effort to contain COVID-19 would be in vain with the new variant.

South Africa has only a 24 percent vaccination rate and 4.9 percent infection rate, so the fast spread of Omicron cannot prove the variant has been able to break through the vaccination barrier, said Zhang.

Once the variant broke the barrier in other countries with high vaccination rates, such as the United Kingdom and Israel, it will be necessary for China to adjust the current vaccination system, Zhang said.

New vaccine system

"People may have to take different vaccines for the mainstream COVID variant every year, just like the influenza vaccines," Zhang added. "Life would be harder then."

Currently, no Omicron variant has been detected on the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong has reported two infection cases of the Omicron variant, in a person who arrived from South Africa and another who stayed at the same quarantine hotel. It has banned visitors from eight countries in southern Africa - Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Multiple countries, including the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Jordan, Czech, Brazil and Russia, have banned the entry of people from several southern African countries.

The state of New York has declared a new public emergency over the emerging Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Switzerland has banned all direct flights from seven southern African nations. Those from Israel, Belgium and other nations where the Omicron had been detected must receive nucleic acid tests and 10-day quarantines.

Chinese COVID-19 vaccine producer Sinovac Biotech said it has begun working on the vaccines for the Omicron variant.

Shanghai reported one asymptomatic infection and five imported cases on Saturday, said the Shanghai Health Commission on Sunday morning.

As of 8am on Sunday, a total of 214 close contacts linked to Shanghai's three locally transmitted coronavirus cases have been tracked down and are under quarantine. One of them tested positive for coronavirus and confirmed as an asymptomatic case on Saturday while the rest were negative.

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