After just the past week China's government dramatically pivoted from its ultra-harsh 'zero Covid' policy - a policy which had triggered unprecedented widespread protests against communist authorities and health officials as in some instances they barricaded whole neighborhoods into strictly controlled quarantine zones - toward what appears a full embrace of a more lax 'Swedish model' type approach, national health authorities are prepping the population for the coming Covid wave, which could impact an estimated 80 to 90% of the Chinese population, according to a fresh projection by Feng Zijian, a former deputy chief at China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It’s going to be inevitable for most of us to get infected once, regardless of how the Covid-fighting measures are adjusted," Feng said Tuesday during a virtual conference discussing the zero Covid offramps at Tsinghua University in Beijing. As a senior health official, Feng is part of the central government's task force in implementing new policies which have moved away from the 'one size fits all' mentality that guided Beijing's health response since the pandemic began.
"Some 60% of Chinese people may be infected in the first wave, before the curve flattens, Feng predicted," as cited in Bloomberg. "By comparison, about 58% of the US population had been infected by February this year, according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis released in April. That was up from 33.5% in December."
So it seems two years too late, China is learning the lessons of a number of countries that embraced a more flexible stance based on understanding herd immunity early, also centered on protecting the most vulnerable demographic, the elderly and the infirm, while not shuttering the economy wholesale.
Further, as of Thursday morning in China (local time), health authorities are reporting "more than 20,000 new cases a day at the moment, as outbreaks flare from Beijing to the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou. That’s up from less than 100 a day in June, and zero for long periods of 2020."
But China says it's ready amid its more localized approach which will seek to prep hospitals, civic authorities, and the citizenry on "proper protective measures" - such as the greater deployment of at-home rapid antigen test kits. "It is better to direct the flood than block it," Lu Jiahai, a senior expert at the state drug regulator National Medical Products Administration (NMPA), said.
As for this approach looking more like a Swedish model policy (though don't expect anyone in Beijing to call it that), Caixin Global recently captured the following quotes which illustrate an astounding about-face in thinking on the pandemic among Chinese officials:
Although there are challenges in the implementation of home quarantine, the infection risks should not be exaggerated, said University of Hong Kong’s Jin.
"Scientific guidelines should be provided for everyone to follow with a clear accountability mechanism, as there have been many examples that even couples in the same room didn’t infect each other," said Jin, citing the experience in Hong Kong, where home isolation has been widely adopted after the worst outbreaks hit in the spring.
One resident in Beijing agreed. "I think it is more important to eliminate the irrational fear of being infected, and at the same time learn how to reduce the risk of cross-infection," Ma Qiao, who has studied preventative medicine, told Caixin.
Some of the new measures from the communist government call for isolating asymptomatic or mild Covid cases at home rather than in quarantine camps or hospitals for seven days. Anyone in contact with the infected would have to quarantine at home for five days instead of eight days at a camp and then at home.
The State Council further disbanded the rule for people to show negative Covid tests before entering public places. As the SCMP summarized the new approach this week: "The new policy stressed that basic social and medical services need to be provided. People's movements, work, and production should not be restricted in low-risk areas."