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World’s largest Covid wave currently unfolding across China

After three years following a strict “zero-Covid” strategy, China relaxed most of its restrictions at the beginning of December, leading to an unprecedented outbreak. Due to the population’s major lack of natural immunity, a “soup” of Omicron variants is now rapidly spreading throughout China in what is probably the largest Covid-19 wave the world has witnessed since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to recent estimates of the UK-based health data company Airfinity, at the moment about 9,000 people are dying daily in China, with infections totaling 18.6 million since the beginning of December. The experts expect China’s wave to reach its first peak on January 13, with approximately 3.7 million infections and 25,000 deaths per day. These figures are in stark contrast with those coming from Chinese officials, who currently report only several thousands of cases per day and just ten Covid-related deaths since December 7. 

Worried about the possible global spread of new, more virulent variants, several countries such as the United States, Italy, Spain, and Japan have started re-imposing travel restrictions, such as mandatory PCR tests of airline passengers arriving from China. While the European Union’s health agency considers an EU-wide introduction of mandatory Covid screenings as “unjustified” due to the “higher population immunity in the EU/EEA, as well as the prior emergence and subsequent replacement of variants currently circulating in China,” the World Health Organization (WHO) is asking Chinese officials to be more forthcoming with detailed data on the outbreak.

“In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways that they believe may protect their populations,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a Twitter post.

In order to closely monitor the possible emergence of new variants, several scientists are proposing to test wastewater from airlines. “Previous Covid-19 wastewater surveillance has shown to be a valuable tool and airplane wastewater surveillance could potentially be an option,” said Kirsten Nordlund, a spokesperson for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, as the rapid global spread of previous variants such as Delta and Omicron – despite travel restrictions imposed after the detection of these variants in India and South Africa, respectively – has already proven, it is most likely too late to stop China’s outbreak from soon impacting the entire world. Hopefully, either Omicron will manage to outcompete other emerging variants – as it so successfully did until now – or these new variants will not be more virulent and lead to deadlier waves around the globe. 


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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