China's COVID Surge Sparks Global Concern

Following years of limited exposure to the COVID virus due to China's "zero-COVID" strategy and low vaccination rates, a fast-spreading surge of Omicron subvariants in China has researchers predicting a spike in virus-related deaths in the next year

China's COVID Surge Sparks Global Concern
Image credit: Reuters [via Washington Post]

Facts

  • Following years of limited exposure to the COVID virus due to China's "zero-COVID" strategy and low vaccination rates, a fast-spreading surge of Omicron subvariants in China has researchers predicting a spike in virus-related deaths in the next year, with some forecasts predicting more than 1M new fatalities.
  • Earlier this month, China loosened its zero-COVID policy after a wave of mass protests broke out in response to three years of strict lockdowns, mass testing, and quarantines. Now, fears of death, virus mutations, and economic impacts are rising among the population of 1.4B.
  • Scientists are reportedly concerned that a poorly-equipped healthcare system, ineffective vaccines, and low vaccination rates among the elderly will also contribute to a deadly surge that has already begun to overwhelm hospitals in the country.
  • It's reportedly difficult to calculate current numbers as officials have stopped counting asymptomatic cases and halted mandatory testing. Many people now use at-home test kits whose results are not registered.
  • Data from the University of Washington's Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that cases in China will peak around April, at which point a third of the population will potentially have been infected and 322K people could have died.
  • Numerous Chinese state media reports on Tuesday announced increased efforts to boost health infrastructure and supplies — including intensive care beds, medications, and ventilators, among other equipment.

Sources: Washington Post, Reuters, Time, NBC, and Guardian.

Narratives

  • Narrative A, as provided by Fortune. The high numbers of COVID infections and deaths predicted for China in the coming weeks are a direct result of the abandonment of the zero-COVID policy. The strict policy kept citizens from developing immune responses to the virus and hundreds of millions may ultimately die as it's lifted. Authorities should have done more to responsibly boost immunity before opening up, but the policy did keep deaths at a low number when it was in practice.
  • Narrative B, as provided by WBUR. Although lifting the zero-COVID policy may lead to projections of high infection and death rates in the coming months, it was the right thing to do. The draconian lockdowns could not last forever, and the Chinese people were fed up and rightly protesting. This reopening is going to be very challenging but is necessary.