BEIJING, Jan. 3, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — With China loosening its COVID-19 restrictions, some experts have expressed concern that China’s relaxation of COVID-19 limitations will enhance the likelihood of the virus mutating.
“It is a worry,” said CNN, citing William Schaffner, professor at the Division of Infectious Diseases of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville City, Tennessee State, and medical director at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
While the risk of a dangerous new variant emerging in China is “quite low,” said Chris Murray, Seattle-based director of a health research center at the University of Washington, on a CNBC program.
Murray said that it has to have some “special characteristics” for a new variant to emerge and replace Omicron, adding that “it’s probably a small risk at this point.”
Seen from data, the GISAID, a public database based in Germany, released a statement on Friday that recent China’s genome sequence data indicates that “all closely resemble known globally circulating variants seen in different parts of the world between July and December,” when compared with the 14.4 million genomes in the database.
A total of 9 subvariants of Omicron are circulating in China, and no characteristics of genomic mutations have been found in these subvariants yet, Xu Wenbo, director of the National Institute for Viral Disease and Control (NIVDC) of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said on Tuesday.
China’s efforts in monitoring mutations
Xu said that the country has formulated a work plan to monitor the novel coronavirus variant strains since it optimized COVID-19 prevention and control measures.
The work plan requires choosing three “sentinel hospitals,” set up for monitoring, controlling and treating epidemic and infectious diseases, in each province.
Each sentinel hospital will collect 15 samples in outpatient clinics and emergency departments, 10 severe cases and all fatal cases every week for genome sequencing and analysis, and upload data to the NIVDC, thus establishing a national genome database for the novel coronavirus, according to Xu.
Yang Xiaobing, director at the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the local TV station in an interview that the sentinel hospitals in Wuhan city have collected 40 throat swab samplings each week from mid-December, doubling the previous number, to detect the virus.
All data showed that no other strains have been found circulating in the city from October, except the BA.5.2, according to Yang.
The country has also shared its data with the world. China has been uploading gene sequences to the WHO since the outbreak of the epidemic, so that other countries could develop diagnostic reagents and vaccines based on the data, said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China CDC, on Thursday.
Further information has been shared on Friday. The National Health Commission (NHC) and China CDC held a video meeting with the WHO, and exchanged views on the current COVID-19 situation, treatment and vaccinations. Technical exchanges would be continued to help end the epidemic worldwide as soon as possible, according to the NHC.
China’s response to COVID-19 prevention and control is well founded
China has released multiple measures in the past three years to provide guidance for the prevention and control of the epidemic, including nine versions of the Diagnosis and Treatment Protocol for COVID-19, 20 optimized measures and new 10 measures. The country will manage COVID-19 with measures aimed at Class-B infectious diseases instead of the more serious Class-A ones from January 8, 2023.
Liang Wannian, head of the COVID-19 response expert panel under the NHC, said that China’s adjustment on the epidemic is based on the understanding of pathogens, the immune level of the population, the resistance capacity of the health system and public health intervention measures.
It doesn’t mean letting go of the virus, but to “allocate resources to the most important tasks of prevention, control and treatment,” said Liang.
China has made efforts to enhance the medical supplies needed, including therapeutic medicines, testing reagents, vaccines, medical masks and protective suits.
More than 3.4 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered till now, with over 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated, Li Bin, deputy head of the NHC, said at a press conference on December 27.
The country’s daily production capacity of antipyretic analgesic drugs ibuprofen and paracetamol has exceeded 200 million tablets, with daily output reaching 190 million, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Thursday, adding that the country’s output of antigen detection reagents has increased from 60 million per day in early December to 110 million per day.