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Op-Ed: China’s huge COVID surge — Back to Square One in terms of transmission?

Can we stop playing politics and start playing real-world immunology?

Markets reacted badly to Xi Jinping's decision to pack his leadership team with loyalists who back his zero-Covid strategy
Markets reacted badly to Xi Jinping's decision to pack his leadership team with loyalists who back his zero-Covid strategy - Copyright AFP INA FASSBENDER
Markets reacted badly to Xi Jinping's decision to pack his leadership team with loyalists who back his zero-Covid strategy - Copyright AFP INA FASSBENDER

The world has spent a few years criticizing China’s zero-COVID policy. The truly scary thing is that the most highly enforced quarantines and shutdowns aren’t controlling the spread of the virus. The highest outbreaks on record have occurred in the last week, right where it all began.

There’s a rather gruesome footnote to this situation. China’s new surge happened shortly after some minor reductions in restrictions were tried. These were just local measures, and the new outbreaks are nationwide, but it’s obvious that further reductions won’t be happening.

This new situation deserves far more thorough scrutiny. New strains of the virus are showing up around the world. China is currently the world’s most populous nation. Very high-density populations are naturally susceptible to pandemics. There’s nothing particularly unusual about taking precautions to reduce the spread of a local epidemic, let alone a global pandemic.

A history of lousy precedents

A lot of the criticism of China’s 3 years struggle to contain the virus has been largely political. It was easy to blame China for the spread of the pandemic and produce conspiracy theories out of thin air.

That said – The original outbreak is also still very far from a solved problem. “Immunology by press release” is still the historic answer, not the proven answer to the first outbreak.

The first outbreak had antecedents which got almost no attention. I wrote an article back in June 2020 citing Spanish research which identified the virus as present in sewage samples taken in Barcelona in 2019, pre-outbreak in Wuhan. It was already circulating. It was assumed at the time that the market in Wuhan was the initial point of human infection.

Now follow the logic from that point:

  • China currently has the strictest controls in place for managing COVID.
  • Infection rates are soaring.
  • How is the virus being transmitted, if under such strict lockdown? (People might break quarantine, but does that cause “record outbreaks?)  

This is back to Square One in too many ways. If humans can’t transmit the virus, what can? Rodents? Insects? Birds? Mites? Bedbugs? Nothing migrates west to east. What vector of infection can get around a total shutdown?

You see why this is way too much like Square One. If there is some form of transmission that can trigger major outbreaks, let alone record outbreaks, it’s serious enough.

The first pandemic went worldwide virtually overnight. Out of nowhere, it arrived with minimal fanfare, and its original transmission was very vaguely defined. Now, a new surge has happened in the same place and nobody’s too sure how it’s getting transmitted.

If this Chinese new wave is anything like as threatening as it seems, maybe the adults should step in. Can we stop playing politics and start playing real-world immunology?

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Disclaimer
The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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