Experts have expressed their concerns that the loosening of China’s COVID-19 restrictions could lead to an increased risk of the virus mutating. William Schaffner, professor of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told CNN: “It is a worry.”
The risk of a dangerous new variant emerging in China may be “quite low,” according to Chris Murray, the Seattle-based director of a health research center at the University of Washington. He noted that for a new variant to emerge, it must possess some “special characteristics,” but that the risk is currently “probably small.”
In a statement released on Friday, the GISAID public database in Germany reported that China’s new genome sequence data closely matches known globally circulating variants seen between July and December in the 14.4 million genomes in the database. This discovery could have significant implications for understanding the evolution of the virus and its spread around the world.
Xu Wenbo, director of the National Institute for Viral Disease and Control (NIVDC) of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), has revealed that a whopping nine different subvariants of the Omicron virus have been detected in China, with no notable genomic mutations thus far.
China’s efforts in monitoring mutations
The Chinese government has taken steps to ensure that the novel coronavirus variant strains are monitored effectively. A work plan has been devised, which includes the selection of three ‘sentinel hospitals’ in each province. These hospitals are tasked with monitoring, controlling and treating any epidemic or infectious diseases that may arise. With these measures in place, the country is better prepared to tackle the virus and its variants.
Xu announced that each sentinel hospital will contribute to the National Institute of Viral Disease Control (NIVDC) by collecting 15 samples every week from the outpatient clinics and emergency departments, including 10 severe cases and all fatal cases, for genome sequencing and analysis. This will create a national genome database for the novel coronavirus that can be accessed by anyone.
Yang Xiaobing, director of the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has revealed that sentinel hospitals in the city have ramped up their virus detection efforts. Starting from mid-December, they began collecting 40 throat swab samplings each week – doubling the previous number. Fortunately, the data collected showed no other strains circulating in Wuhan except the BA.5.2.
China has been a beacon of light for the world during this epidemic, generously sharing their data to allow other countries to develop diagnostic reagents and vaccines. According to Wu Zunyou, the Chief Epidemiologist at the China CDC, the country has been uploading gene sequences to the WHO since the outbreak of the epidemic to aid the global fight against COVID-19.
The National Health Commission (NHC) and China CDC held a video meeting with the WHO on Friday to discuss the current COVID-19 situation, treatments, and vaccinations. Both parties committed to continuing technical exchanges in order to bring an end to the epidemic as quickly as possible. Together, they are working to ensure that the world can finally overcome this pandemic.
China’s response to COVID-19 prevention and control is well founded
China has been working hard on COVID-19 prevention and control since 2018, issuing no less than nine versions of the Diagnosis and Treatment Protocol for COVID-19, 20 optimized measures, and 10 new measures. As of January 8, 2023, the country will be transitioning from Class-A to Class-B infectious disease management for COVID-19.
Liang Wannian, head of the COVID-19 response expert panel under the NHC, has stated that China’s response to the epidemic is based on their comprehensive understanding of the pathogens, the immunity of the population, the health system’s resistance capacity, and various public health intervention measures.
China has taken the necessary steps to ensure that the resources needed to prevent, control and treat the virus are adequately allocated. This includes providing therapeutic medicines, testing reagents, vaccines, medical masks and protective suits. To ensure that the spread of the virus is contained, China is determined to provide the necessary medical supplies to those who need it most.
As of December 27, an astonishing 3.4 billion people worldwide have received their COVID-19 vaccine doses, with a whopping 90 percent of the population now fully vaccinated. Li Bin, deputy head of the NHC, made this announcement during a press conference – a milestone in the fight against this global pandemic.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced on Thursday that China’s daily production capacity of ibuprofen and paracetamol – two common antipyretic analgesic drugs – has skyrocketed to a whopping 200 million tablets, with daily output reaching a staggering 190 million! This is an incredible increase from just 60 million antigen detection reagents produced on a daily basis back in early December.