Expert warns to stick to 'dynamic zero COVID' policy amid case surge

A woman receives COVID-19 test in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, December 15, 2021. (Photo: CFP)

Chinese epidemiologist and academician Zhang Boli said China needs to continue with its "dynamic zero COVID" policy, as well as continue with precise prevention and control of the virus amid a whopping surge of COVID-19 cases within the country.

It's necessary to clear some misunderstandings on COVID-19, warned Zhang Boli during an interview, who is an epidemiologist with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

The misunderstandings include people treating the COVID-19 as influenza and consider the current stringent policy unnecessary.

Zhang said the country needs to "adopt unified deployment and make joint efforts to overcome the rebound of the pandemic."

Until March, China had kept low daily infections with measures such as massing testing, wide range of vaccination and travel restrictions. But in recent weeks, daily infections hit thousands as Omicron variants became more transmissible.

China is witnessing COVID-19 flare-ups in some cities with sharp daily case rise since the initial virus outbreak over two years ago. The Chinese mainland recorded 1,415 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 19,199 new asymptomatic cases on Tuesday.

A major amount of cases are asymptomatic as the COVID-19 variants are less severe. However, asymptomatic cases are harder to detect which is a key driver for the current surge.

Why is "dynamic zero COVID-19" policy crucial?

The dynamic zero-COVID policy's main features comprises swiftness and accuracy, aiming to contain epidemic flare-ups through timely actions, according to Ma Xiaowei, head of China's National Health Commission.

That means under this approach, China has to be able to identify cases quickly, and cut off the transmission chain once a case is detected.

"If we don't pursue the goal of 'dynamic zero-COVID', the transmission will occur consistently, leading to large-scale rebound," Liang Wannian, head of the expert team on COVID-19 response and disposal at the National Health Commission said in a previous interview with China Media Group.

Another expert, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pointed out in November that China would have had 47.8 million cases and about 950,000 fatalities if it were to have the global infection rate and didn't carry out the dynamic zero COVID-19 policy.

COVID-19 can't be treated as influenza

At the moment there are at least two known sub-variants of Omicron.

The Omicron variants have stronger transmissibility and is more harmful to humans than influenza, according to Liang. "It's too early to consider COVID-19 caused by Omicron as just 'more severe influenza'."

The World Health Organization also shared a similar view on the virus in January saying that the new coronavirus variant Omicron should not yet be seen as a flu-like endemic illness although it is on track to infect more than half of Europe.

"We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic."