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How will Omicron COVID variant impact China?

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The new Omicron COVID variant detected in South Africa won’t affect China at present, despite its faster spread rates, Shanghai’s top coronavirus expert said on Sunday.

China’s rapid response and dynamic Zero-COVID strategy can cope with all kinds of COVID variants, including the newly popped up Omicron, said Dr Zhang Wenhong, the head of Shanghai’s COVID-19 treatment team.

“With science and unity, China can handle the Omicron variant, the same as the contagious Delta variant that we’ve contained its spread,” Zhang said in an article titled “Shanghai enters final stage of epidemic” on his Weibo microblog account.

The World Health Organization has classified the B.1.1.529 variant detected in South Africa as a SARS-CoV-2 “variant of concern,” saying it may spread more quickly than other forms. Infections in South Africa had risen steeply in recent weeks, coinciding with detection of the Omicron variant.

Zhang said the variant is believed to have evolved in a patient with immune deficiency, such as HIV/Aids with a chronic Covid-19 infection.

It seems that the Omicron has conquered other variants in South Africa, including the Delta, in a short period of time, due to its large number of mutations, said Zhang.

Zhang said it will take another two weeks to observe more data from global labs to make an accurate judgement on whether the global effort to contain COVID-19 would be in vain with the new variant.

South Africa has only a 24 percent vaccination rate and 4.9 percent infection rate, so the fast spread of Omicron cannot prove the variant has been able to break through the vaccination barrier, said Zhang.

Once the variant broke the barrier in other countries with high vaccination rates, such as the United Kingdom and Israel, it will be necessary for China to adjust the current vaccination system, Zhang said.

New system of vaccination

“People may have to take different vaccines for the main variant of COVID-19 each year, just like flu vaccines,” Zhang said. “Life would be harsher.”

Currently, no Omicron variant has been detected on the Chinese mainland.

Hong Kong has reported two infection cases of the Omicron variant, in a person who arrived from South Africa and another who stayed at the same quarantine hotel. It has banned visitors from eight countries in southern Africa – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Many countries, including the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Jordan, the Czech Republic, Brazil and Russia, have banned people from various countries in southern Africa.

New York State has declared a new public emergency with respect to the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Switzerland has banned all direct flights from seven countries in South Africa. Those from Israel, Belgium and other countries where Omicron have been detected are required to undergo nucleic acid testing and quarantine for 10 days.

Chinese COVID-19 vaccine producer Sinovac Biotech has started working on the vaccines for the Omicron variant.

Shanghai reported an asymptomatic infection and five imported cases on Saturday, said the Shanghai Health Committee on Sunday morning.

At 8:00 a.m. Sunday, a total of 214 close contacts related to the three locally transmitted coronavirus cases in Shanghai were located and are in quarantine. One was positive for the coronavirus and confirmed an asymptomatic case on Saturday, while the other was negative.