Scientists have warned that it may be too early to declare an end to the COVID-19 pandemic amid fears of a potentially devastating new wave in China.
It comes after China began rolling back its zero-COVID policy this month following an unprecedented spike in infections and public outcry.
Forecasts suggest the world’s second-biggest economy could face an explosion of cases and more than a million deaths after the abrupt turnaround next year.
China’s zero-COVID approach had kept infections and deaths relatively low among its population of 1.4 billion.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) had said the approach was not “sustainable” amid growing concerns about its impact on people’s lives and the country’s economy.
President Xi Jinping’s move last week has changed the global picture, experts say.
Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, who sits on a WHO committee charged with advising on the state of the COVID emergency, said: “The question is whether you can call it post-pandemic when such a significant part of the world is actually just entering its second wave,” reports Sky.
As recently as September, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the “the end is in sight” for the pandemic.
Last week he told reporters in Geneva he was “confident” the emergency would end sometime next year.
In addition to the risks for China, some global health experts have warned that the virus’ domestic spread could also give it room for mutation.
They worry that this could potentially create a new variant consistent with its evolution when allowed to spread among high populations in other regions.
Infectious disease specialist and WHO adviser David Heymann said: “I don’t think anybody can predict for sure whether we could see new variants that might be a concern to the rest of the world, but clearly the world should be concerned if people are becoming sick and dying [in China],” reports Sky.
He added that the situation in China is likely to remain an emergency, but that it may be a regional issue rather than a global one.
China uses a narrow definition of COVID deaths and reported no new deaths for Tuesday and even dropped one from the total since the pandemic began.
The death toll is 5,241, a fraction of the numbers in many less populous countries.
China’s National Health Commission said this week only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients with the virus are classified as COVID-related deaths.
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