COVID-19: What could have gone wrong if China had opened up?
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a local in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, north China, November 28, 2021. /CFP

A medical worker takes a swab sample from a local in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, north China, November 28, 2021. /CFP

Without its dynamic zero-COVID policy, China would have witnessed around 47.8 million cases and about 950,000 casualties if it were to have the global infection rate, said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at a finance and economic conference in Beijing on November 28. 

Speaking at the conference, Wu said the current dynamic zero-COVID policy is the most effective strategy for containing infectious diseases. It can contain the outbreak in its early stages and prevent the virus from spreading, protecting most areas of the country from being impacted, so that the economic activity and people's lives go on normally.

Wu also listed the successful results of China's zero-COVID approach using an estimation model during the keynote speech. He said China could have over 200 million infections and more than 3 million deaths if it were to have the same infection rate as that of the United States and Britain, but it prevented all that by adopting the zero-COVID policy. "This is a very remarkable achievement," Wu said.

Wu's estimation is proofed by scientific calculation. China could face more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-COVID policy, mathematicians from Peking University wrote in a report published on China CDC Weekly on November 24.

Using data for August from the U.S., UK, Spain, France and Israel, the report assessed the potential results if China had adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries. China's daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it had adopted the U.S.'s pandemic strategy, the report said. Of these daily cases, 10,000 would suffer from severe illnesses, which would overwhelm China's healthcare system and cause a catastrophe in the country, it added.

Wu said that unlike other countries whose local COVID-19 cases far exceed the imported ones, China cannot simply lift travel curbs by adopting the entry strategy of "full vaccination proof and negative PCR test within 72 hours." 

So far, each new outbreak of COVID-19 in China has been attributed to an imported case of the disease. "Dropping the zero-COVID policy means abandoning a two-year-long pandemic prevention approach half way," Wu said.

"Our nation has to be very cautious in formulating the prevention and control measures with every detail considered, and strive to avoid subversive mistakes and detours as we cannot afford them," Wu said.

(With input from Reuters)

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