US health expert says risk of deadly new Covid variant in China ‘extremely low’

Pictured on Dec. 28, 2022, a fever hospital-turned-gymnasium in Fuzhou, Fujian Province.

Wang Dongming | China News Service | Good pictures

BEIJING – The spread of a dangerous new Covid-19 variant in China is unlikely, said Dr Chris Murray, director of the Seattle-based Center for Health Research at the University of Washington.

His comments Friday on CNBC “Squawk Box Asia“Come as US health officials warned this week about the possibility of a new Covid variant emerging in China’s nationwide outbreak — and how Beijing’s lack of transparency May delay detection of public health hazards.

Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, pointed out that there could be billions of Omicron infections worldwide this year, but no new Covid variant has emerged, only sub-variants of Omicron.

“That’s why I put the risk very low that there is a dangerous new variant in China,” he said. He noted that a new variant would require “certain special characteristics” to emerge and replace Omicron.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa a year ago. Omicron is more transmissible but causes less severe disease than when Covid first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

Unlike much of the world, China’s wave of Covid this month is affecting 1.4 billion people, many of whom are infected for the first time. Only locally produced vaccines are widely available to the local population.

Beijing this month suddenly eased many of its Covid-related restrictions. Officials also said on Monday Quarantine of scrap inbound starts from January 8When resuming passport processing for Chinese nationals wishing to travel abroad for tourism.

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The US, Japan and other countries followed suit this week New covid testing requirements For travelers from China.

Hospitalization required, mortality data

Murray said an outright travel ban, if proposed, “wouldn’t make sense” and that he “wouldn’t put in testing requirements.”

“The argument being made is that we need more transparency about what’s going on in China,” Murray said.

“An early sign of some new variation would actually be a change in hospitalizations or mortality associated with Covid, and not just the number of infections, and we know that Omicron does that,” he said.

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday it would stop publishing daily data on Covid infections and deaths. However, China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains daily reports — which, along with hospital discharges, show thousands of new Covid infections and only a handful of deaths per day. Covid testing is no longer mandatory in China.

Publications on China’s Centers for Disease Control website show that its director, Shen Hongping, held online meetings this month with his US counterpart and the head of the UK’s Health Protection Agency.

Risks of Covid

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