Covid Surge In China; World Most Concerned 

As the world entered 2023, concerns have yet again raised about Covid 19 pandemic, which is believed to have taken a surge in China. However, no reports are coming out from China with respect to the number of infected or hospitalised or dead, which has raised serious concern.

The World Health Organisation(WHO), said that it was really much concerned about China not disclosing the atual numbers. In his first virtual briefing for the year, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesussaid  the organisation is concerned about the COVID-19 surge in China.

“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” he said.

THE CHINA URGE

The Director General said that WHO is concerned about the risk to life in the world’s most populous country and reiterated the importance of stepping up vaccination coverage, including booster doses, particularly for vulnerable groups such as older persons.

“This is especially important for older people, those with underlying medical conditions, and others who are at higher risk of severe outcomes. With circulation in China so high and comprehensive data not forthcoming – as I said last week it is understandable that some countries are taking steps they believe will protect their own citizens,” he said.

WHO’s Emergencies Director Dr. Mike Ryanalso stressed the need for more information from the Chinese authorities. “We know there are difficulties in all countries very often in recording hospital releases, admissions and use of ICU (intensive care unit) facilities,” he said.

“We believe that the current numbers being published from Chinaunderrepresents the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths,” he noted.

MEETING EXPERTS

The WHO said that it held high-level meetings with Chinese authorities over the past week to discuss the rise in cases and hospitalizations.

Its Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) also met with Chinese experts to discuss the situation. During that meeting, scientists from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention presented data from what they described as imported and locally acquired coronavirus infections, the WHO said.

The analysis showed that most of the virus circulating in the country are of two Omicron lineages, BA.5.2 and BF.7, which accounted for 97.5 per cent of all local infections, as well as a few other known Omicron sublineages. 

“These variants are known and have been circulating in other countries, and at the present time no new variant has been reported by the China CDC,” the TAG-VE said in a statement.  So far, 773 sequences from mainland China have been submitted to the virus database operated by the global science initiative, GISAID.

Most, 564, were collected after 1 December. Of this number, only 95 are labelled as locally acquired cases, while 187 are imported and 261 “do not have this information provided.” The majority of the locally acquired cases, 95 per cent, belong to the two Omicron lineages. “This is in line with genomes from travellers from China submitted to the GISAID EpiCoV database by other countries. No new variant or mutation of known significance is noted in the publicly available sequence data,” the statement said.

PANDEMIC THREAT PERSISTS

Now into the fourth year of the pandemic, Tedros said that the world is in a much better place than it was several years ago, due to clinical care management, vaccines and treatments. However, the WHO chief said that the threat of COVID-19 persists despite clear progress.

Stating that they are really concerned about the current COVID-19 epidemiological picture, with both intense transmission in several parts of the world and a recombinant sub-variant spreading quickly, the WHO Chiefsaid, “in recent weeks, there has been increasing reports of hospitalization and health system pressure, particularly in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere where respiratory diseases including flu are also circulating.”

Noting that COVID-19 was on the decline For most of last year, he said that vaccination increased across the world, and there was sustained progress in many low- and middle-income countries that had been left far behind in 2021 due to vaccine nationalism and manufacturing capacity being restricted to just a handful of countries.

“New lifesaving antivirals were identified last year, which helped cut mortality further, although the rollout followed a similar pattern of rich countries firs,” he said.

He also mentioned that WHO is working as always to improve access and on Christmas Day announced that the antivirals Nirmatrelvir (Nir-ma-trel-vir) and Ritonavir (Rit-on-a-vir) were prequalified for production by an Indian manufacturer. “This is the first generic version of an antiviral to get WHO approval and should lead to increased production and access; particularly in lower- and middle-income countries,” said the UN Health Organisation.

10,000 DEATHS A WEEK 

“Every week, approximately 10,000 people die of COVID-19, that we are aware of. The true toll is likely much higher,” Tedros said.

Furthermore, the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is on the rise in the United States and Europe and has been identified in nearly 30 countries.

XBB.1.5 was initially detected in October 2022.  It is the most transmissible subvariant yet, according to Dr. Maria Van Kherkove, the WHO Technical Lead for COVID-19.

“COVID-19 will no doubt still be a major topic of discussion, but I believe and hope that with the right efforts this will be the year the public health emergency officially ends,” the WHO Chief stressed.

KEEP UP SURVEILLANCE

Dr. Maria Van Kherkove said, “We do expect further waves of infection around the world, but that doesn’t have to translate into further waves of death because our countermeasures continue to work.”

Meanwhile, the TAG-VE experts are also working on a related risk assessment that should be published in the coming days.   

Dr. Van Kherkove emphasized the importance of continued COVID-19 surveillance around the world to track known subvariants that are in circulation. 

Last month, more than 13 million cases of the disease were reported, though WHO believes the toll is higher, 

“But more concerning, we’ve hada 15 per cent increase in deaths in the last month and again, we know that that is an underestimate because there are delays in reporting, and with the holiday period and with mixing, those trends are expected to continue,” said Dr. Van Kherkove. 

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