Skip to content

U.S., global health officials worry about China transparency on virus spread

People receive an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Bijie, Guizhou, China, December 29, 2022.

CFOTO | Future Publishing | Getty Images

U.S. and global health leaders say Beijing has not shared enough information about the spread of Covid-19 in China and the scale and severity of the current wave of infections in the world’s most populous country. He said he was putting the international community in the dark.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Wednesday that lack of transparency from China could delay the identification of new Covid variants that pose a threat to public health. According to the CDC, China shares few genomic sequences used to identify such variants.

The CDC on Wednesday announced new testing requirements for airline passengers whose travel originates in China. All passengers, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, must be tested for Covid at least two days before his flight to the United States and present a negative result to the airline before departure. This requirement he will go into effect on January 5th.

India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan have also imposed Covid testing requirements on airline passengers departing from China. The Chinese government is battling a surge in infections after easing its strict zero-coronavirus policy in the wake of social unrest earlier this year.

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, a US federal health official said the Biden administration has very limited information on new Covid cases, hospitalizations and especially deaths in China. The official said testing and reporting of cases in the country are also declining, making it difficult to determine the true infection rate.

China’s zero-Covid policy, which seeks to quell the outbreak through draconian measures, means that a large portion of the population has no immunity to the highly contagious Omicron strain, officials said. As a result, the Biden administration expects large numbers of people to become infected in China relatively quickly.

“What we are concerned about is a new variant that could actually emerge in China,” said an official who declined to be named as a condition of the press conference. With so many people affected in such a short period of time, new variants may emerge.”

According to a statement this week from GISAID, a public database based in Germany, the latest genome sequencing data shared by Chinese health authorities showed that the Covid variant circulating in China was not known to the world. It shows that it is similar to what you have.

In the past 180 days, China has sequenced and shared 412 Covid cases with GISAID, while the US has shared more than 576,000. Health officials in China share less than 1% of her reported and sequenced Covid cases, while the US shares more than 4% of her and the UK nearly 12% of her.

The World Health Organization has also asked China to share more information about what is happening on the ground as the virus spreads.

At a press conference in Geneva last week, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. increase.

CNBC Health & Science

Read the latest global health coverage on CNBC:

“To comprehensively assess the risk of the situation on the ground, WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospitalization and ICU support requirements,” Tedros said.

According to Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s emergency program, the WHO has mostly anecdotal reports of emergency rooms, and in some cases, intensive care units in China filling up.

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva last week, Ryan said of the Covid wave in China, “We don’t have full knowledge of its impact.

Dr Maria van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid technical lead, said last week that Omicron subspecies BA.5, BQ.1, BF.7 and BA.2.75 are all endemic in China. XBB has also been detected in China, one of the most immunoevasive variants to date.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said in a report published on Dec. 15 that a large wave of infections in China is inevitable as Beijing eases its zero-Covid policy. . According to the report, there is a huge number of serious diseases in the elderly population, and the death toll will be substantial.

China is facing a difficult situation as domestically developed vaccines are not as effective as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s mRNA shots. increase.

“One in seven people on the planet lives in China, and accelerating immunization, protecting the health system during this period will benefit seven out of seven people on this planet,” Ryan said. .

The United States offered China an mRNA Covid vaccine and other aid, but Beijing turned down the offer, a federal health official said in a call Wednesday.