The end of Covid Zero

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Source– The post is based on the article “The end of Covid Zero” published in the Business Standard on 9th December 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- Effects of policies of developed and developing countries on India interest.

News– The article explains the scenario of the upcoming Covid wave in China and its implications for India.

What is the new Chinese policy on Covid?

Chinese leadership has sharply reversed course and begun relaxing pandemic-related restrictions in the country.

It was done after widespread protests against its “Covid Zero” policy.

What could be the impact of the new Chinese policy on Covid?

Though Omicron is less virulent than Delta, it is still a deadly virus in an unprotected population. 6,000 people died in Hong Kong earlier this year after Omicron had become dominant once some citywide restrictions had been relaxed. Hong Kong had access to Western vaccines as well as Chinese ones.

A surge in infections in the mainland after reopening is almost inevitable. This could turn into a surge in deaths if Chinese vaccines prove relatively ineffective against the currently circulating variants.

Is China well prepared for this new Covid wave?

The three years of Covid Zero in China have not been used to build up capacity in preparation for relaxed restrictions. One analysis has suggested that a full reopening might lead to almost six million people requiring intensive care.

China has fewer than four ICU beds per 100,000 people. This ratio is much worse in the interior than in the cities along the coast.

Only two-thirds of those above 80 have received a full vaccination course, and just 40 per cent were given a booster dose. In addition, the efficacy of these vaccines has come into question.

What does it mean for India?

India has learned to live with Covid. Vaccination has reached most of the country. Social distancing norms have been suspended. These assumptions are, however, predicated on the fact that Covid-19 is not surging anywhere in the world but has a relatively steady rate of infection.

The government will need to re-examine these assumptions in the case of a surge in China after it begins to reopen. Vaccination requirements and testing for arrivals may have to be  reintroduced. The government’s Covid policy, including its genome sequencing of variants, must also be re-examined.

Policy flexibility in response to medical and epidemiological developments have always been central to effective Covid control. It is time to revisit those principles.

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