China’s zero-Covid approach won’t limit Omicron spread: US epidemiologist

While Beijing has claimed to curb coronavirus spread with its zero-Covid strategy, the same “authoritarian approaches” may not be successful against Omicron as the variant is unlike others, according to an epidemiologist from US Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

“Trying to stop Omicron is kind of like trying to stop the wind,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the institute, was quoted as saying on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box Asia’.

According to Osterholm, China is “uniquely at risk” to Omicron.

It is because early studies suggest the country’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines are “not very effective” against the variant, and at the same time China’s success at preventing the spread of Covid so far means it has a very large population that remains vulnerable.

China’s policy of “zero Covid” includes barring foreign spectators and not opening tickets for the general public, the BBC reported.

Groups of local spectators are being “invited” to events and will have to observe strict Covid prevention measures “before, during and after watching the Games”.

And people are advised not to travel into the capital, Beijing, from other parts of China.

It is also keeping the media, athletes and observers in distinct bubbles, with the rules saying anyone entering these bubbles must be fully vaccinated or spend 21 days in quarantine.

Covid testing is carried out on a daily basis, masks have to be worn at all times, overseas participants are required to enter into a bubble upon arrival in China and remain so, until they leave, the report said.

However, there have been more than 300 positive Covid-19 tests confirmed at the Olympics since January 23, including from people arriving at the airport, athletes and officials, media reports have said. Olympic athletes have also complained of Covid quarantine conditions in China.

According to US-based consultancy Eurasia Group, China’s zero-Covid policy ranks among the top risks for 2022, CNBC reported.

While the approach “looked incredibly successful in 2020”, it has now “become a fight against a much more transmissible variant with broader lockdowns and vaccines with limited effectiveness,” Eurasia said in a January report.

Sticking with the strict measures also could lead to more economic disruption, it added.

“China’s policy will fail to contain infections, leading to larger outbreaks, requiring in turn more severe lockdowns. This will in turn lead to greater economic disruptions, more state intervention,” the report said.

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