Fears that China lifting its zero-COVID policy could lead to new coronavirus variants appear not to have materialized (yet).
A study published in The Lancet on Wednesday found that the country has had no new cases of COVID-19 since it lifted its strict policy last year, a move that triggered a spike in cases and deaths.
An analysis by researchers in China of more than 400 new cases in Beijing between Nov. 14 and Dec. 20 found that more than 90 percent had the omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said these variants are similar to those circulating in the EU/EEA in autumn 2022, before the rise in cases in China, and there is no evidence they pose a greater risk. Compared to those currently circulating in the EU/EEA.
China has been criticized for its lack of transparency throughout the pandemic, including this latest wave of infections.
But the European Union’s disease agency, ECDC, confirmed that its own analysis – which included detections on arrival at airports in several European countries and analysis of wastewater from aircraft arriving in Europe from China – found that BA.5.2 and BF.7 were dominant, They cautioned, however, that this wastewater data is “quite limited and still being validated.”
While the authors of the Lancet study conducted their analysis in Beijing, they wrote that the results “can be considered a snapshot of China.”
But others caution against such leaps.
“The SARS-CoV-2 molecular epidemiological profile in one region of a large and densely populated country cannot be extrapolated to the entire country,” wrote Wolfgang Presser and Tongai Maponga of Stellenbosch University in South Africa in a linked commentary in The Lancet. Two were not involved in the study.
“In other regions of China, other evolutionary dynamics may be unfolding, possibly including animal species that can infect humans and spread more evolved viruses,” they wrote.
The prevalence of each of the two variants — BF.7 and BA.5.2 — varies from province to province, World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeyer told Politico, citing data from China’s CDC.
Restrictions on travel
The European Union followed China’s lifting of its zero-covid policies late last year Countries are recommending a raft of travel arrangements for tourists from China.
At its last meeting on Friday, the EU’s de facto emergency crisis forum, the IPCR, decided to maintain the measures for now. The matter will be reassessed in the next IPCR meeting scheduled on February 16.
Europe’s airport lobby, ACI Europe, has said it wants to scrap passenger checks.
“We support the move away from passenger screening as a means of tracking COVID-19, particularly in light of the comprehensive assessment issued by ECDC of the lack of expected impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 in China on the epidemiological situation in the EU. The EEA. Airports and airlines of any travel calls for recommendations to be scientifically driven and risk-based, which is unfortunately not the case now,” Agata Lonik, communications manager for ACI Europe, the European airport lobby, told POLITICO.
With additional reporting from Marie Eccles.