China is bracing for a potential resurgence of Covid-19 infections, with estimates suggesting that weekly cases might hit an astounding 65 million by the end of June.
The projection raises concerns as China had enforced some of the world’s most stringent Covid prevention measures earlier. Yet, the new variant known as XBB or omicron has received a somewhat muted response from both the government and the citizens.
About half a year ago, China disassembled the comprehensive virus combat infrastructure, which included rigorous lockdowns, widespread testing, obligatory quarantines, and strict mask mandates. However, the present surge in cases attributed to the omicron variant has resulted in a more restrained reaction from the government and the public.
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory diseases specialist, presented data at a Guangzhou medical conference, suggesting that the infection wave starting in late April was foreseen. His modeling indicated that China could face up to 40 million infections per week, culminating in 65 million by June end. To compare, the United States reported more than 5 million weekly cases at its January peak. However, China has ceased providing weekly case updates recently, making the precise scale of the current outbreak hard to determine.
While the U.S. is deliberating with allies and partners about China’s second Covid wave, the State Department has not confirmed considering travel restrictions. The priority is to monitor the situation in tandem with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before updating travel guidelines. The U.S. government stresses the importance of collaborating with China on global health issues and maintaining open communication channels.
During the last omicron wave in December and January, a different virus variant caused significant disruption in China, with millions of infections overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums. However, immunity may have reduced since then, raising reinfection risks. Zhong noted that the government has preliminarily approved two vaccines targeting the XBB subvariants, and more could follow soon.
China’s measured response seems linked to efforts to rejuvenate the economy and reassure foreign businesses, including American ones. However, reintroducing strict restrictions could adversely affect businesses, so stability and clarity are sought to facilitate planning.
A shift in government messaging also shapes the public’s view of the current wave. There is less media coverage inducing fear, no alarming videos to alert people, and no strict measures like lockdowns. As a result, some people report experiencing milder symptoms this time. However, questions are being raised about the necessity of the initial strict measures given the current circumstances.
As the pandemic landscape evolves significantly and the omicron variant poses new challenges, China must carefully balance controlling the virus spread, fostering economic stability, responding to public sentiment, and maintaining clear communication.