China will unwaveringly adhere to dynamic zero-case policy

China will unwaveringly adhere to the dynamic-zero case strategy, officials from the National Health Commission (NHC) stressed on Wednesday, as the Chinese mainland reported 20,000 daily new cases, the highest number since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite stringent measures to contain the virus across the country, domestic cases continue to spike, putting the country to a test as never before, with 1,383 confirmed cases and 19,089 asymptomatic cases reported on Tuesday alone.

From March 1 through April 5, the mainland reported 176,455 COVID-19 infections, affecting 29 provincial-level regions. The epidemic is characterized by a combination of scaled outbreaks and sporadic cases, and the occurrence of more spillovers and new cases, Lei Zhenglong of the NHC said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The continued surge has pushed many to question if the dynamic zero-case strategy is still effective in containing the spread of Omicron. Will China abandon the policy that was once lauded for its success in beating the virus over the past two years?

Mi Feng, NHC spokesperson, gave the answer at Wednesday’s press conference, saying that as the domestic epidemic is surging quickly and some community transmission has yet to be cut off, China should unwaveringly stick with its dynamic zero-case strategy, act “swiftly” and strengthen screening, testing, quarantine and treatment of cases in key epidemic regions.

Since mid-March after effective measures were implemented, five previously epidemic-stricken provinces such as Guangdong, Shandong and Hebei have shown good trends, but outbreaks in Shanghai and Jilin Province are still developing, Lei said.

“The recent outbreaks exactly prove that measures centered on strict quarantine, control, lockdowns and screening are still effective, scientific and necessary to contain the spread of the Omicron strain. The dynamic zero-case policy can be achieved,” Lei noted.

Asked when will China tame this wave of the outbreak, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said it depends on how well the country’s anti-epidemic policies and measures are implemented.

“If we stick to the policy of dynamic-zero cases and strictly implement the measures in every one of the anti-epidemic links, the current sporadic outbreaks will be quickly resolved,” Wu said.

The infection tally reported in Shanghai surpassed 90,000 with many community transmissions and spillovers to other regions of the country. Total infections in Jilin Province topped 60,000, with the outbreak in Changchun city still developing and the one in Jilin city declining with fluctuations, according to Lei.

Wang Guangfa, a Beijing-based respiratory expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday that despite the relatively high number of infections compared with previous outbreaks, the proportion of the daily new cases reported on Tuesday in the population is still relatively low.

Sticking with the dynamic zero-case is the right and necessary choice for China because if we take a laissez-faire approach instead, infections would exponentially surge and the cost of the epidemic on the economy and society will be much bigger than at present, Wang noted.

Lu Hongzhou, head of Shenzhen’s anti-epidemic expert team and head of the Third People’s Hospital of Shenzhen, told the Global Times with the implementation of the current anti-epidemic measures rolled out in Shanghai and Jilin, the tally of new daily cases in these places is likely to reach dynamic zero in about two weeks.

In the face of continued flare-ups, the authorities stressed that vaccination is one of the key methods to prevent COVID-19, especially the strengthening of booster shots among the elderly.

As of April 5, more than 1.24 billion people had been fully vaccinated, accounting for about 88 percent of the total Chinese population. About 212 million people aged above 60 were fully vaccinated and some 146 million people had received a booster, Lei said, highlighting the urgency of strengthening vaccination among elderly people.

Shao Yiming, a leading virologist and immunologist from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times that the insufficient percentage of booster shots among elderly people, who are most vulnerable, is the weak link of our country in the battle against COVID-19.

China is putting more effort into increasing booster shots among people over 80 years old, Shao said.

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