Two new Omicron variants again force lockdown in Chinese cities
A spike in COVID-19 cases prompted China to impose new lockdowns and travel restrictions across the country. Two new subvariants of Omicron, BF.7 and BA.5.1.7, which are expected to be highly contagious and more transmissible, have been detected by China in various regions.
On October 12, the Chinese national health committee announced that 1,760 new local infections had occurred the previous day, including cases from Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Xian.
Evolution of Omicron
Late last year, Omicron surpassed the delta strain and was first discovered in southern Africa. The spike protein gene, which provides the coronavirus with its crown-like structure and enables cell invasion, has around 30 mutations in the initial iteration of Omicron, B.1.1.529, making this coronavirus unique .
Changes there can reduce recognition of the pathogen by immune system antibodies generated in response to vaccination or a Covid case, increasing the likelihood of infection in these circumstances. Since then, Omicron has continued to evolve, resulting in the sudden and simultaneous appearance of many “more suitable”, faster sub-variants. Each consists of a unique combination of genetic changes that impact infectivity, pathogenicity, and antibody evasion.
Some mutant strains have developed remarkable resistance to antibodies, including those created to treat Covid, as well as an improved ability to infect cells of the respiratory system, leaving them increasingly adept at spreading from person to person. To separate specific variants of what has become a confusing categorization of letters and numbers using traditional scientific nomenclature, scientists have assigned them labels like “basilisk” and “griffin.”
Of the major omicron lineages, the BQ.1.1, BQ.1, BQ.1.3, BA.2.3.20, and XBB subvariants have some of the highest spread rates. The UK Health Safety Agency recently said that the BQ varieties, along with BA.2.75.2 and BF.7, are of most concern due to their growth benefits and immune evasion.
What is the current situation in China?
Two extremely transmissible subvariants of Omicron, BF.7 and BA.5.1.7, have been discovered in a number of Chinese provinces. Experts have issued a warning about the “rapid speed of spread” of these two subvariants, as more cases of each have spread to more provinces in China. While several cases of BA.5.1.7 have been found in the Chinese city of Shaoguan in Guangdong Province, BF.7 has also been found there as well as in Yantai and is gradually spreading to other regions.
While sweeping Covid bans have kept people from traveling or shopping, consumer confidence continues to slide as holiday spending during China’s Golden Week fell to its lowest level in 7 year.
The country is stepping up efforts on zero-Covid, a strategy used by local authorities to follow Party guidelines, show allegiance to President Xi Jingping and avoid any widespread outbreak that could put their careers at risk weeks before Congress party. In mainland China, the number of new COVID cases is rising, forcing many local authorities to tighten movement restrictions.
China’s “Zero Covid” policy?
Zero-COVID is a public health policy that emphasizes the use of contact tracing, border restrictions, mass screening, and periodic lockdowns to effectively close all avenues for the spread of a virus like the COVID.
Although the frequency of new infections is not a concern, China is pursuing a zero COVID strategy. Local media have claimed that due to the country’s economic downturn, there is growing public pressure on Chinese authorities to relax its zero-Covid policy. However, discussions at the current meeting of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee (7th Plenary) mainly focus on the party’s determination to maintain the strict zero-Covid policy even after the 20th CPC National Congress.
On October 10, the Party newspaper “Le Quotidien du Peuple” also repeated it, imploring the public to “be patient” with the zero-Covid policy as it aims to break all chains of transmission of the virus.
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