Soaring China Covid cases increase risk of new variants: Experts

PARIS: The explosion of Covid-19 cases in China as the country lifts Covid-free measures could create a “potential breeding ground” for new variation appear, medical experts warn.
China announced this week that incoming travelers will no longer be subject to quarantine as of January 8, the latest major change to strict restrictions that have left the country virtually closed to the world since January. since the beginning of the pandemic.
While the country’s National Health Commission has stopped publishing daily case numbers, officials in several cities estimate that hundreds of thousands of people have been infected in recent weeks. Hospitals and crematoriums were overwhelmed across the country.
With the virus now infecting nearly a fifth of the world’s population – almost all of whom have no immunity to a previous infection and many of them still unvaccinated – the Other countries and experts fear China will become a fertile ground for new variants.
Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that each new infection increases the chance of the virus mutating.
“The sudden exposure of 1.4 billion people to SARS-CoV-2 clearly creates conditions for the emergence of new variants,” Flahault said, referring to the virus that causes Covid-19.
Bruno Lina, a professor of virology at France’s University of Lyon, told La Croix newspaper this week that China could become a “potential breeding ground for the virus”.
Soumya Swaminathan, who served as the World Health Organization’s chief scientist until November, said the majority of China’s population is vulnerable in part because many elderly people have not been vaccinated or vaccinated.
“We need to keep a close eye on any new variants of concern,” she told the website of the Indian Express newspaper.
In response to the increased cases, the United States, Italy, Japan, India and Malaysia announced this week they will strengthen health measures for travelers arriving from China.
The lack of transparent data from China – particularly on virus genome sequences – is making it increasingly difficult for public health officials to ensure that they can identify any potential new variants. and take swift measures to reduce the spread,” United States. officials said Tuesday.
India and Japan have said they will introduce mandatory PCR testing for all passengers arriving from China, a measure Flahault said could be a way around any delays in clearance. news from Beijing.
“If we succeed in sampling and sequencing all of the viruses identified from any traveler from China, we will know almost as soon as new variants emerge,” he said. and spread” in this country.
Xu Wenbo, head of the virus control institute at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, last week said hospitals across the country would collect samples from patients and upload sequencing information to the database. new national database, allowing authorities to track possible new strains in real time.
He told journalists that more than 130 new Omicron sublines were discovered in China in the past three months.
Among them are the XXB and BQ.1 and their sublines, which have spread in the United States and parts of Europe in recent months as a host of sub-variants compete for dominance over the world. Around the world.
However, BA.5.2 and BF.7 are still the main Omicron strains detected in China, Xu said, adding that different sub-lines are likely to circulate together.
Flahault said “a soup” of more than 500 new subvariants of Omicron have been identified in recent months, although it is often difficult to know where each first appeared.
“Any variant, when it is more contagious than the previously dominant variants – such as BQ.1, B2.75.2, XBB, CH.1 or BF.7 – is certainly threats,” he said. threat, because they can cause new waves.” .
“None of these known variants, however, appear to represent any new specific risk of more severe symptoms to our knowledge, although it may be coming out with new variants in the coming future.”


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