If China were to drop its zero-Covid-19 policy and open up its economy the way some Western countries have, it would have hundreds of thousands daily infections that would overwhelm its healthcare system, a study has claimed.
The unsettling prediction came from a group of researchers at Peking University in Beijing, who crunched the numbers to see how big an outbreak of Covid-19 China would experience if it adopted the policies some Western nations have. Their prediction was based on factors such as vaccination uptake, and population size and density, with the US, the UK, Israel, Spain, and France used as references.
Beijing's current approach aimed at preventing domestic circulation of the virus includes the strict control of international travel and the imposition of quarantines to stamp out local case clusters. If it were dropped in favor of a more lenient approach, there would be a "real possibility of a colossal outbreak, which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden to the medical system," the researchers said.
Adopting the open-up strategy deployed by the US would result in China registering as many as 637,155 daily infections, of which 22,364 would have severe symptoms, the study estimates. If it followed the UK's lead, China could record 275,793 daily infections and 9,680 severe daily infections, it said. And those were low estimates based on optimistic assumptions about the likes of the quality of natural immunity developed in unvaccinated patients.
China "should not, and cannot afford" the overconfidence of dropping its current Covid-19 policies, the authors argued. "More efficient vaccinations or more specific treatment, [and] preferably the combination of both, are needed before entry-exit quarantine measures and other Covid-19 response strategies in China can be safely lifted."
The study was printed in the China CDC Weekly, a publication of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It came days after a scolding article on Bloomberg.com accused Beijing of standing in the way of the global economic recovery due to its approach to Covid-19.
Health restrictions imposed by the world's biggest exporter "cause knock-on effects" on the world, Guy Platten, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, told the business news agency. He was referring to the delays maritime shipments from China face because of its zero-tolerance stance on Covid-19. "Any restrictions to ship operations have an accumulative impact on the supply chain and cause real disruptions," Platten said.