Beijing CNN —
The wave of Covid infections sweeping across China may already have peaked in some of the country’s biggest cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, according to a new study.
The study, published Dec. 29 in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Medicine, says mathematical modeling predicted the latest wave of infections would sweep through China’s major cities by the end of 2022, while more rural areas in mid-central would be hit by the surge -until end of January.
The spread could be “dramatically amplified” by travel expected during the upcoming Spring Festival, a national holiday period around the Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 22, the study said.
For nearly three years, the Chinese government deployed strict lockdowns, centralized quarantines, mass testing and rigorous contact tracing to stem the spread of the virus. That costly strategy was abandoned in early December after an explosion of protests across the country against tough restrictions that have upended businesses and daily life.
Researchers from universities and health facilities in Shanghai modeled the curves of daily new Covid-19 cases and accumulated the total number of cases from early October to November 29, before the country began relaxing its nuclear testing requirements.
“The results showed that Guangzhou has already passed the recent wave, while the urban areas of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing are in the midst of the current wave, which is expected to be over by the end of 2022,” the study said.
In rural areas of Chongqing, the Spring Festival travel rush could “speed up” the start of the upcoming wave by up to 30 days, she added.
“It is reasonable to speculate that the Omicron outbreak could occur in mainland China in multiple waves, with new local waves possibly reappearing in late 2023,” the study said.
The emergency response measures recommended in the study should aim to give over-the-counter drugs to symptomatic, low-risk, vaccinated, and under 60-year-old patients. Timely treatment with antiviral drugs is also recommended for high-risk populations that are vaccinated and older than 60 years.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping had previously set his political legitimacy to zero-Covid, but the sudden policy reversal caught the public and the country’s fragile health system by surprise, leaving many to question his wisdom.
Widespread shortages of cold and fever medication have left hospitals dealing with an unprecedented rise in infections. And as China’s tightly closed borders gradually open up, some countries appear wary of accepting out-of-country travelers and are imposing new requirements for a negative Covid test before travel.
Some studies estimate the death toll could surpass a million if China doesn’t roll out booster shots and antiviral drugs fast enough.
The government has launched a booster campaign for the elderly, but many are reluctant to take it because of concerns about side effects.