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Global Times

Experts divided over whether China to see COVID-19 reboot

Global Times

By Chen Qingqing and Bai Yunyi Published: 2020/5/18 2:51:09

Whether China could see a second novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak depends on whether top-down authorities can maintain the same level of prevention and control measures in the coming months, especially in areas involving border control and community-based prevention work, an expert close to the Chinese top health authority said.

The comments followed Zhong Nanshan, a leading virus expert, who recently said the country still faces big challenges and is not any better off than other countries.

China implemented various draconian strategies in a short period to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. The majority of the population has since witnessed lower infection rates; however, when border controls are relaxed, new risks triggered by imported cases will emerge, said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"While in some foreign countries, they adopted strategies to contain the virus spread at lower levels, which won't weigh on their medical and healthcare systems, which is different from China's strategy," he said.

"It's not a question about being positive or not. To fend off the risk of imported infections, we should always maintain the same level of strict prevention and control measures, and question how long they could last," the expert noted.

The comments were made after Zhong, the country's leading respiratory disease specialist, told CNN that due to a lack of immunity, the Chinese are still susceptible to COVID-19 infections, and authorities should not be complacent as the threat of a second outbreak looms.

Historically, the majority of "herd immunity" has been achieved through vaccine breakthroughs, but without a vaccine, it could be risky even if 60 or 70 percent of the population has acquired virus immunity through infection. It cannot avoid a specific area or population not getting immune, and an area or group with one infection can quickly form a community infection, said Huang Yanzhong, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Huang also mentioned that the most ideal solution to avoid a second wave would be to develop vaccines and allow the majority to achieve immunity through them. Otherwise, it's about 'building a high wall' by establishing protective barriers such as temperature screenings at airports, followed by medical quarantine, and social distancing as prevention measures must continue.

China has recorded single-digit growth in imported infections since the beginning of May, while some provinces including Northeast China's Heilongjiang, along with Shanghai and Beijing, have all faced growing pressure in preventing imported infections after domestic transmissions had been curbed.

However, some analysts disagree with Zhong's assessment and feel there is zero chance that China would see a second outbreak.

China has had complete control measures, and once symptoms emerged for further outbreaks, they would be kept under control, said Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University.

"Virus growth and reproduction is no longer in season, and there isn't a virus in the environment, nor is there a premise or any conditions for virus transmissions. As for the problem of low immunity among the Chinese population, it is not a condition of a second outbreak," Yang said.

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