While many parts of the world are imposing new travel restrictions to counter the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, China is confident about beating it through a policy it has used to fight other strains.
About the Omicron variant: The B.1.1.529 variant, officially named Omicron, was first reported in South Africa on Nov. 9. Since then, it was found to have a large number of mutations, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron,” states WHO. This means individuals who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 could contract Omicron more easily.
Due to increasing Omicron infections in almost all of South Africa, the WHO has categorized it as a Variant of Concern (VOC). The organization said it is working with researchers around the world to study the variant’s transmissibility, severity of infection, diagnostic tests and vaccines, as well as effectiveness of treatments.
How China will deal with it: China is banking on its “zero-COVID policy” as the Omicron threat remains under study. In essence, the policy requires the absolute shutdown of borders and lockdown of localities with recorded infections.
Zhang Wenhong, one of China's leading infectious disease specialists, said Omicron will have “no major impact” on the country at this time. “China’s current rapid response and dynamic clearance strategy is capable of dealing with all types of new coronavirus variants,” he wrote on Weibo, according to the South China Morning Post.
The success of such a “zero-COVID policy” hinges on the Chinese Communist Party’s capability for mass mobilization. As per The Diplomat, mass mobilization t allows members to systematically execute orders efficiently under the government’s Leninist, or top-down, hierarchy.
A study from Peking University found that China could have more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections each day if it adopted the U.S. strategy against the disease. “Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace 'open-up' strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain Western countries,” the report said.
In an editorial, state-run media outlet Global Times lauded the policy for pushing China to form a complete system against COVID-19. “China's dynamic zero-case route has been criticized in the West in many ways. However, if the Omicron variant launches a new wave of attack, it is China that will be best able to block its invasion,” the editorial said. “This has made China a true impregnable fortress against the spread of the virus in the world today.”
With the arrival of Omicron, the WHO advises countries to enhance the surveillance and sequencing of cases, share genome sequences on public databases, report initial cases or clusters and perform field investigations and laboratory assessments.
As of this writing, countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, Israel and the Philippines have all implemented varying travel restrictions on South Africa.
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