Editorial: Very sorry to be right – Predictions about the failure of Zero Case Policy, unfortunately, become reality

More than two months ago, the first editorial of COTRI WEEKLY has this to say:

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

“The day the last editorial of 2021 was written, was also the day the first Omicron case in China was reported. After two years of a ruthless Whack-a-mole policy of reacting with major lockdowns to every minor outbreak of CoViD-19, the government proudly pointed to the fact that the number of victims of CoViD-19 was less than 1% of the similar number in the USA, Omicron has outwitted the Chinese government.

The result of this policy is a population that, as it has been much less exposed than the rest of the world to the virus, is about to fall victim to Omicron, which cannot be stopped from spreading with even the most rigorous lockdowns of major cities. The Chinese inactivated vaccines seem also, according to several studies, not to be as effective against the new mutation as mRNA vaccines. Even incarcerating the population of one major city after another without access even to supermarkets has not stopped the Omicron mutation from arriving in Beijing.

Unfortunately, there is no sign that the government will change its policy, instead of creating myths about viruses arriving by parcel post from abroad. It can only be hoped that a new massive booster mRNA vaccination campaign and new effective treatments stopping infections from having lethal results will prevent China from becoming in 2022 the country with the highest number of CoViD-19 victims in the world. Your humble editor has seldom wished so much to be proven wrong.

Alas, the story seems to unfold as predicted. Shanghai announced in the evening of the 27th of March, that the whole city would become the subject of a lockdown starting the next morning, organised in two stages between March 28th 5 a.m., and April 5th to carry out COVID-19 testing over a nine-day period by dividing Shanghai along the Huangpu River. The news came 24 hours after Shanghai authorities denied plans for a broad lockdown. Panic shopping was the immediate reaction with supermarkets extending their opening hours, as, based on previous experiences in other cities, citizens had no reason to believe public announcements that there will be enough supplies.

The lockdown in Shanghai follows recent similar ones in Shenzhen, Dongguan, Shenyang, and other locations, based on the spread of the virus to all Mainland provinces – except Tibet and Xinjiang (by definition, probably).

After rising for two weeks, the official numbers of confirmed symptomatic CoViD-19 cases halved between March 23rd and March 27th, while asymptomatic cases almost doubled in the same period. The official explanation is that this is the result of Omicron B.A.2 highly transmissible but less virulent features and the result of China’s high vaccination rates.

One would be happy to believe these numbers, however, judging from the experiences in many other cases, including Hong Kong SAR, it is not likely at all that in most provinces the number of confirmed cases would stay on a single- or low double-digit level. With testing happening mostly in bigger cities, the number of asymptomatic cases might have reached already six-digit numbers.

About 50 million especially vulnerable Chinese aged 60 and over are reported not to have been vaccinated and an even smaller percentage of persons 80+ years of age. They were not given top priority in vaccination campaigns and many of them live rather in the countryside than in big cities.

One ray of sunshine can be seen through: In Jilin province, Paxlovid, made by Pfizer, has been started to be distributed to prevent the severe outcomes of CoViD-19 cases. So, let’s continue to hope for the best.

Last week, the Chinese men’s national football team managed to reach a 1:1 draw against Saudi Arabia with a goal in the final minutes, even though they had only 25% possession and a ratio of 1:9 corners. Maybe that’s a good omen (they missed qualifying for the FIFA World Cup nevertheless).

As always, all best wishes for our readers and for mankind from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team.