Covid-19 has entered a “new, dangerous phase”: Lancet

The Covid-19 pandemic is still far from over, and everyone must remain vigilant, and advocate the highest level of transparency in the reporting of cases, hospital admissions, and fatalities, while authorities must speed up surveillance of variant testing and vaccinations, according to a renowned medical journal, the Lancet.

Rather than believing the virus is somewhere else, these precautions are required to avoid the further spread of Covid-19.

Covid-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern three years ago, on January 5, 2020, by the World Health Organisation (WHO), but despite many efforts to learn from the pandemic over the past three years, the global response remains inadequate and fragmented, cited the medical journal.

This year, the Lancet journal says that, far from being over, Covid-19 has entered a “new, dangerous phase” that requires immediate care.

According to the publication, a relaxation of restrictive regulations in China, for example, triggered fast infection in many millions of Chinese individuals in December 2022.

“A struggling health system was at its limits and many older people were dying, although official figures did not capture these deaths as Covid-19 related because Chinese authorities applied a very narrow definition and stopped information on numbers of infections, hospital admissions, and intensive care admissions. Although infections might have peaked in Beijing, China and its population are entering a precarious and difficult phase for several reasons,” the Lancet reported.

Due to this fact, the medical publication has concluded that Covid-19 is far from over.

“Rather than hoping for the end, letting our guard down, and thinking that the problem is somewhere else, everyone needs to remain alert; encourage maximum transparency in reporting cases, hospital admissions, and deaths; and accelerate collaborative surveillance of variant testing and vaccinations. The pandemic is far from over,” said the Lancet.

The medical journal highlighted that first, the vaccination rate, especially for older people, is insufficient.

“According to figures from the Chinese National Health Commission, at the end of November, 69 percent of those 60 years and older and only 40 percent of those 80 years or older had a course of two vaccinations and a booster with Chinese-licensed vaccines, although these are not specifically aimed against the prevailing omicron variants,” read the journal.

“A vaccination drive, especially aimed at older people, is underway. Additionally, several Chinese companies are working on a bivalent mRNA vaccine, but it will take some time for these more effective vaccines to be licensed.”

Second, in addition to the winter season, the Lunar Chinese New Year on January 22, 2023, and the expected travel wave across the country to see relatives will result in the spread of infections to rural areas where the healthcare system is weaker, and where many older people with comorbidities and poor health live, according to a recent Peking University-Lancet Commission, as reported by the Lancet journal.

“Understandably, Chinese people want to lead normal lives again and see friends and family after such a long period of restrictions, but the health consequences could be dire.”

Third, far from expressing compassion, the international world has immediately reacted by establishing travel restrictions and the requirement of a pre-trip negative SARS-CoV-2 test for Chinese citizens, reported the Lancet.

“This move was regarded as unnecessary by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control as the variants seen in China, the omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7, are the ones that have been circulating in Europe and elsewhere in populations that now have high levels of immunity. Although precaution is understandable and variant monitoring and data sharing should be widely encouraged, singling out Chinese travellers is counterproductive and might have unintended consequences.”

According to the medical journal, the more concerning omicron subvariant to watch is XBB1.5, which has rapidly spread in the United States, accounting for 405 percent of cases at the end of December 2022 and having a doubling time of one week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, also dubbed this XBB1.5 variation the most transmissible yet, with changes in the protein spike that allow tighter binding to the ACE-2 receptor and improve immune evasion, albeit there are no indicators that it produces more severe disease so far.

“However, there are some early indications that hospital admissions are increasing in the northeast of the USA, where it is most prevalent,” said the Lancet journal.

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