The arrival of the BA.5 variant of the coronavirus in China threatens economically damaging lockdowns across the country, including in Shanghai, where many residents recently emerged from a gruelling two months of home confinement.
Over the weekend, the country’s most populous city confirmed that the increasingly dominant sub-variant of omicron had arrived just weeks after officials declared victory against coronavirus following a citywide lockdown.
Although the total number of infections in China remains low compared to many other countries (the National Health Commission on Monday reported 352 locally transmitted cases), Beijing remains deeply concerned that the arrival of the highly transmissible subvariant will cause a massive outbreak and a wave of deaths. especially among the under-vaccinated elderly population.
Responding to questions about whether another large-scale lockdown was imminent, the government said on social media app WeChat that the plan was to only carry out PCR tests for all residents in nine of the city’s 16 districts.
So far there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease. And infectious disease experts say that while new infections are on the rise, the impact of BA.5 is unlikely to be of the magnitude of the increase we saw last winter, in part because the country is better equipped to handle it.
The nation reported 347 cases for Monday. A cluster has emerged in Henan province, which has recorded 73 cases, while Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong and Macau, has recorded 42 cases.
China’s benchmark CSI 300 index rose about 0.2% in early Tuesday trading after falling 1.7% on Monday amid fears of another lockdown in Shanghai.
For residents of Shanghai, where authorities declared victory over the virus last month, multiple rounds of testing and the closure of individual housing complexes are reliving difficult memories.
The draconian measures kept people locked inside their homes for much of April and May, struggling to reliably access food and health care, exacting a huge economic toll and sparking some of the strongest anti-government sentiment in years.
With the number of cases rising once again and officials denying speculation that a lockdown is looming, the likelihood of a return to the stricter principles of Covid Zero, a strategy that has left China cut off from the rest of the post-Covid world. The pandemic is a hot topic. topic of discussion in the city of 25 million.
“Every time we saw any hope of a business rebound in June, there were outbreaks of covid. It’s like a curse,” said a Shanghai taxi driver surnamed Cui. “We’re losing money every day. I don’t think it can last very long.”
The United States is averaging 300 deaths a day, up from 3,000 last winter. Dr. Anna Durbin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the combination of previous infections and vaccinations remains protective, and treatments for COVID-19 are better.
Like previous Omicron subvariants, BA.5 and BA.4 are known to have mutations that allow them to evade protection against the virus from COVID-19 vaccines or previous infections.
Although the immune system still produces antibodies to neutralize a potential infection, that protection diminishes over time. It’s not an on-off switch, Dowdy said, but if someone is exposed to a complicated subvariant while their protection is waning, the virus can find an opening.
“Anything that can bypass that immune response a little bit faster has an advantage when a large part of the population is immune,” Dowdy told Insider.
A recent study from Columbia University that has not yet been peer-reviewed found that recent BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are at least four times more resistant to protection against the virus compared to earlier variants in the lineage Omicron.
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The spread of BA.5 also comes as scientists worry that a new omicron mutant, called BA2.75, is gaining ground in India and showing up in other countries.
Scientists say the new variant can spread quickly and bypass immunity from previous infections and vaccines. It is not clear if it could cause more severe disease than other omicron variants, including BA.5.
“It’s still too early to draw too many conclusions,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “But it seems that, especially in India, transmission rates are showing an exponential increase.” Whether it will outperform BA.5, he said, has yet to be determined.
Still, the fact that it has already been detected in many parts of the world with even lower levels of viral surveillance “is an early indication that it is spreading,” said Shishi Luo, head of infectious diseases at Helix, a company that supplies viral sequencing. information to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest mutant has been seen in several distant states in India and appears to be spreading faster than other variants there, said Lipi Thukral, a scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi. It has also been detected in about 10 other countries, including Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. Two cases were recently identified on the US West Coast, and Helix identified a third case in the US last week.
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