China embarks on ‘experiment’ the world has not seen since overturning COVID-zero policy, with potentially grave consequences, medical experts say Newsweek.
Ron Gutman Stanford University Adjunct professor, medical entrepreneur and co-founder of Intrivo, the US company that developed the On/Go rapid COVID test, said China’s secrecy over health data sharing poses a danger to the world. I was.
He calls for the development of more robust global pandemic forecasting and surveillance systems that can identify dangerous new pathogens and virus variants early, before they become widespread.
“The lack of accurate and detailed information sharing from China, combined with the still fairly limited systematic monitoring of pathogens from other parts of the world, has led to at least a lack of synchronization among global players, both industry and government. This leads to a persistent risk of more widespread outbreaks of infectious diseases,” Gutmann said. Newsweek.
China swiftly abandoned its strict zero-COVID policy in December, wave of infectionLast week, a senior health official said that 80 percent of the country’s people —Equivalent to about 1.2 billion people—Some Western analysts have expressed skepticism about the numbers, but they were infected in this wave. Some say it does.)
Experts are wary of Chinese government data in general, making it difficult to know exactly what is really happening in the country. who (WHO) previously urged China to share more information about the spread of the disease in China and warned that it was underestimating the true impact of the virus, especially when it came to deaths.
Before the government announced earlier this month that 60,000 people had died from COVID since early December, it had only acknowledged 37 deaths over the course of the pandemic. Western experts, meanwhile, suggest that hundreds of thousands, or more than a million people in the country have likely died from COVID.
According to the latest data released by Chinese health authorities, The latest wave has already peakedOfficials downplayed concerns that the movement of millions of people over the Lunar New Year period could spread the virus and sow the seeds of another wave, saying they now have high levels of immunity. claims.
But James Trauer, head of the epidemiological modeling department at Monash University in Australia, said: of Guardian Chinese officials should not assume that there will be no further waves of infections in the coming weeks and months just because the disease spread widely in the winter.
Modeling by British health analytics group Airfinity suggests that the number of new infections in China is now peaking at over 4.5 million per day, but that analysis It shows that social mixing spread the virus further. According to Airfinity, the current wave is projected to last until at least March, putting pressure on hospitals and likely killing tens of thousands more.
Epidemiologist Jodi McBernon of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia, said: of Guardian Even if the current wave subsides, China is likely to face a cycle of surges in infections over the next year. , there are many declines at once,” she said.
Some experts have downplayed concerns that the current Chinese wave could lead to the emergence of dangerous new subspecies, with China falling behind the rest of the world as a result of its zero COVID policy. I am taking Some researchers say that because of pre-existing immunity, the known subspecies currently circulating in the country are likely not suitable enough to spread elsewhere.
However, this situation could change quickly as so many people in China have acquired some form of immunity from natural infection and may evolve the virus.
In light of this, Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, told Politico: concern. “
Kluge reiterated the organization’s call for “virus vigilance, testing, sequencing” and, importantly, transparent data sharing that applies to all countries.
Many countries have scaled back their variant surveillance efforts, which could increase the risk of variants emerging from China spreading undetected for some time, said Verity Hill of the Yale School of Public Health. . Nature.
Gutmann said: “What is clear is that after three years of the world’s toughest fight against COVID, it has suddenly reversed in the face of unacceptable economic costs and a rising social white paper. [protest] China is now embarking on an experiment that none of us have ever seen or predicted,” Gutmann said.
Gutman said the country offers an ideal breeding ground for diseases like COVID to spread and evolve given its aging population and densely populated urban areas.
He said, “In one of China’s 10 largest cities of over 10 million people, with unclear vaccination coverage, 1.4 billion people often live in close proximity, obscuring what we see around the world. We are suffering from the COVID winter that hides.”
Gutman continues:[the disease evolves], will the rest of the world be notified? The answer seems unlikely. Attempting to obscure disease creates new risks for all of us. As we have seen, diseases of course do not respect borders. “
The Need for a Global Pandemic Surveillance System
Despite the dire consequences of the COVID pandemic, Gutmann said the world ended lightheartedly in some ways this time around, although lessons need to be learned.
“Another pandemic, subspecies or new pathogen will inevitably occur in the foreseeable future. The next time could be a much deadlier virus or even a mutation of an existing virus,” he said. “Mutation proceeds rapidly. For example, the COVID-19 virus makes 10 billion copies of its DNA each time it infects.
“Most of the time, the mutations in these diseases are benign and mild, so the impact is not that great. There are huge human and financial costs,” he said.
There is currently a real lack of sustained health monitoring and communication about infection variants, and the potential for dangerous new variants to emerge and spread under the radar before we can get them under control. has raised concerns that there is
“I would argue that we are totally unprepared for the next pandemic,” he said. “The global system for monitoring and testing does not yet exist.”
Nevertheless, Gutmann has all the technical, scientific and logistical capabilities to detect new variants much earlier than pathogens and intervene in time to mitigate the spread of infection. said.
“There are important changes that can be easily implemented quickly and cost-effectively for effective pandemic preparedness. I play Russian roulette for life,” he said.
Gutmann said governments, the World Health Organization, biotech companies, universities, and population health managers should collectively “chill” infectious disease prediction, detection, and prevention efforts amid “pandemic fatigue.” I said no.
Instead, these institutions work together to leverage data science and technology that analyzes genomic, biological, ecological, and public health data patterns using information collected from multiple sources around the world. to develop and implement better global pandemic surveillance systems. The goal is to identify potentially dangerous outbreak occurrences at the local, regional and national levels at an early stage.
There are several aspects to this system. One aspect is to make better use of the expertise of academic institutions that are continuously investigating the virus.
“Many of these universities are doing this work. All we need is to connect this data together,” Gutman said. “And you have to make sure you have an alerting system on the same platform. judge.”
It is important to identify early signals for potentially dangerous new mutants or pathogens. Also, when it comes to known pathogens, performing better tests on a regular basis to collect more data is an important step.
“It is important to test, track, and collect more data on existing, novel, and novel variants of existing pathogens like COVID-19. It can also be much more aggressive, and it’s also important to have a good surveillance system in place — a place to identify entirely new pathogens,” Gutman said.
For new and unknown pathogens, a combination of different techniques can be used to help discover pathogens that are just beginning to spread. For example, hospitals can send alerts about unusual new activity, and scientists can track other indicators such as sewage in major cities.
“We can detect new pathogens early and respond early to nip them in the bud,” Gutman said.
Gutman said an improved global pathogen surveillance system could significantly reduce the impact of certain outbreaks by initiating interventions at an earlier stage. However, it is impossible to completely prevent future pandemics.
“We can remove 95-98% of the impact. That’s a big deal, isn’t it?” he said.