Covid in China, the situation worsens: there is the danger of new non-Omicron variants also in the West


Covid in China, the situation worsens: there is the danger of new non-Omicron variants also in the West
Written by aquitodovale

Of Silvia Turin

Today almost one in five Chinese would test positive and the more Sars-CoV-2 circulates, the more likely it is that significant variants will arise, with characteristics of greater diffusivity or pathogenicity

The Ministry of Health has ordered the obligation to undergo an anti-Covid swab for all passengers arriving from China. The news was given by the Minister of Health Orazio Schillaci. The decision was taken following the worrying epidemiological data Chinese. «I have arranged, by ordinance, mandatory Covid antigenic swabs, and related sequencing of the virus, for all passengers coming from China and in transit in Italy. The measure is essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population.” this is what Schillaci declares.

Shortly before the ministry’s decision was taken even the Lazio Region had ordered tests for those who land at Fiumicino from Beijing or Shanghai. The same line was adopted on Tuesday by the health authorities of Lombardy for Malpensa airport. “On a flight from Beijing 52% of passengers were found positive to Covid» said the Lombardy health councilor Guido Bertolaso.

There is concern from global health authorities about the situation of Covid infections in China: the numbers are not provided by the Beijing government, but according to those elaborated by Western institutes of health analysis, such as the British Airfinity, nearly one in five Chinese would test positiveintensive care would be saturated with patients and the number of deaths would exceed five thousand a day, as Guido Santevecchi recounts (in this article).

Stop the “zero Covid” policy

In addition, the abandonment of the “zero Covid” policy by China, now definitive, is about to mark the further, final steps: from 8 January Beijing will resume the issuance and renewal of passports for foreign countries and, at the news, the search for planes and destinations abroad had multiplied by ten compared to last year.
In addition to the concern for the seriously ill in China, there is alarm for the epidemiological consequences of such a vast amount of infections: it could generate new variants even more lethal which from the Asian country could spread to the rest of the world.

The danger of the Chinese situation

But why just the infections in China would they be so concerned about the development of new variants? The probability of appearance of the variants increases with the increase in circulation of the virus and in China some forecasts trace two peaks of infections with abnormal numbers: 3.7 million per day in mid-January and 4.2 million per day in March. «RNA viruses such as the coronavirus – he explains Paul Bonanni, epidemiologist, full professor of Hygiene at the University of Florence — every time they reproduce they make mistakes, called “mutations”. In most cases the mutations do not lead to major changes in the structure of the virus. However the more a virus circulates the more likely it is that significant variants will arise, with characteristics of greater diffusivity or pathogenicity. It’s like with a slot machine: the more attempts are made, the higher the probability that a combination will emerge more widespreador also more aggressive of the virus”.

A poorly immune population

And this is the alarm raised by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the situation in China: due to the “zero Covid” policy, the local population is practically “naïve”, that is, it has had almost no previous exposure to the Sars-CoV virus -2 and has low immunity. Not only that, the elderly have been little vaccinated (only 48 percent of Chinese between the ages of 70 and 79 and 20 percent of the over 80s received three doses) and the vaccines offered, Sinopharm and Coronavac, proved to be much less effective than those used in Europe and the USA. Based on the available estimates, therefore, only 25% of the Chinese population would have some degree of immunity to Omicron (vaccine or infection). In Italy, 84.4% of the population is vaccinated, without considering the recovered.

Beyond Omicron

The virus in China is therefore free to infect millions of people and replicate and mutate millions of times. But there is another aspect to keep in mind: the variant that could spread may not be Omicron. And this is another great source of concern: “While in the first two years of the pandemic new variants were created with different strains (Alfa, Delta, Beta, Omicron), in the last year only subvariants of Omicron – explains the epidemiologist – which represent a signal of a tendency towards the endemization of the virus thanks to vaccines ». The problem is that in China, with such a high circulation of the virus, one could actually arise completely new variant and very distant from the Omicron strain, perhaps capable of exceeding the protection offered so far by the vaccines in use. “We would then find ourselves in a more dangerous situation, which could lead us to levels of serious illness, hospitalization and death that we hadn’t known for some time,” underlines Paolo Bonanni. Omicron itself, the full Chinese hospitals are demonstrating, is not so mild: «Omicron is no less lethal – confirms Bonanni -. Rather, his aggression was confronted with an immune system trained by vaccinations or infection and for this reason its severity was attenuated ». Even a recent study concludes that, if Omicron had not encountered a vaccinated population like the Western one (or in any case immune to the disease), it would have been as lethal as the Wuhan strain (but less than the Delta variant).

Vaccination monitoring and recalls

«What we can do today is vaccination boosters (especially for the frail) to prepare for a possible new diffusion variant that could more easily arise with the millions of infections in China. In fact, it seems very unlikely that the protection given by vaccines can be completely eliminated, while it could decrease proportionally more in those who have not made recent recalls» concludes Bonanni. It is important not to be caught unprepared, both as individuals and as a community: what is happening in China is what could have happened here if we didn’t have effective vaccines. From the point of view of tracking, the sequencing of positives is also essential to intercept the entry of new variants in time.

December 28, 2022 (change December 28, 2022 | 19:22)

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