China COVID wave: Global health experts and officials outside China are worried about a COVID-19 outbreak there, worried that a 1.4 billion-strong nation isn’t vaccinated enough and might not have the healthcare tools to treat a wave of illness that’s going to kill a million people by 2023.
It’s difficult for U.S. and European officials to figure out how, or if, they can help mitigate a crisis they fear will hurt the global economy. This will constrain corporate supply chains, and create novel Coronavirus strains.
“We’ve made it clear that we’re willing to help in any way they find acceptable,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on China COVID wave.
Health experts from countries outside China who have battled COVID waves say advance preparation of the healthcare system, accurate and shared data collection, and open communication are all crucial. They say China lacks many of those elements.
In spite of some evidence to the contrary, President Xi Jinping has long maintained that China’s one-party system is the most effective way to handle the disease.
A burgeoning crisis with global and domestic economic and health implications puts democratic governments in a tough spot diplomatically.
According to Craig Singleton, deputy director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “China’s vaccine nationalism is deeply linked to Xi’s pride, and accepting Western assistance would not only embarrass Xi, but pierce his oft-promoted narrative that China’s governance model is superior.”
In behind-the-scenes talks with Chinese counterparts, European and US officials made it clear Beijing has the ball.
In talks in China earlier this month to prepare for Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit early next year, Washington and Beijing officials discussed COVID. He wouldn’t give details, citing “sensitive diplomatic channels.”
One area of potential Western assistance involves whether China would accept BioNTech’s (22UAy.DE) This mRNA vaccine targets currently circulating Omicron-related virus variants, which many experts believe is more effective than China’s.
Last month, German chancellor Olaf Scholz and BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin discussed the issue in Beijing.
According to White House Coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, the U.S. and other Western countries aren’t openly encouraging China to accept Western-made mRNA vaccines. “We’re ready to help any country in the world with vaccines, treatments, or anything else,” he said.
“Institutional advantages” will help China get through the COVID epidemic without outside assistance, and China’s COVID death toll is still lower than the 1.1 million U.S. deaths and 2.1 million in Europe.
However, U.S. drugmaker Pfizer (PFE.N) last week agreed to export Paxlovid, its COVID antiviral treatment, to China through a local company.
Whether China asks or not, I welcome the attitude of the US government,” Hu Xijin, former editor of party tabloid the Global Times, said on Twitter, adding that he hopes the US will pressure Pfizer to lower Paxlovid’s price.
It’s a risky situation
There’s been an increase in rivalry between the United States and China in recent months. This is due to the Biden administration trying to cripple China’s semiconductor industry and push Beijing out politically.
According to Joe Biden, global politics are at an inflection point between democracy and autocracy.
The two countries are still deeply intertwined, with China being the biggest trade partner and top customer.
Blinken said earlier this month that China needs to get COVID right. It’s in the interests of the Chinese people first and foremost, but it’s also in the interests of everyone.”
COVID worries have been weighing on China-exposed luxury companies such as LVMH (LVMH.PA) and industrial indices recently, and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell expressed his concern last week.
China faces a lot of challenges in reopening, Powell said, adding that manufacturing, exporting, and supply chains are crucial. “This is a risky situation.”
There’s a chance a tragedy is too late, say health experts outside China.
When a Category 5 hurricane is an hour and a half offshore, what do you do? If you haven’t done it by now, it’s too late, said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
“This pandemic will just blow through (China) in the next few weeks,” he said. It’s unfortunate they didn’t think of this six or ten months ago. It would have been better if they had bought themselves time.”
There are more than 160 million diabetics in China, and eight million Chinese over 80 aren’t vaccinated, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. They’re risk factors for severe China COVID wave.
The Korean government, which has one of the lowest COVID mortality rates out there, handled the pandemic by vaccinating as many people as possible, shoring up hospitals before reopening, and talking to the public about it. Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute director Jerome Kim says.
People with symptoms were told how to avoid infecting others through health centers and apps.
We don’t know if it’s in China now.”
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