The U.S. wants to see China’s COVID-19 surge “addressed” as it raises concerns about the possibility of a new coronavirus variant emerging, according to the State Department.
China on Monday reported its first official COVID-19-related deaths in weeks, raising concerns that the country is covering up the true toll of a recent surge in cases. The surge comes as the country exits its “zero COVID” strategy of tracking and isolating every infection, and experts are concerned that not enough of the population has received booster shots to stave off a large coronavirus wave.
And while it doesn’t necessarily mean that a similar surge is in store across the world or in the U.S., it is raising fears that a new and potentially more dangerous COVID-19 variant will emerge.
“First and foremost, any time there is death and illness anywhere around the world, we want to see a situation like that come to an end,” spokesperson Ned Price said at a press conference on Monday when asked about China’s recent COVID-19 surge. “When it comes to COVID, secondly, we know that any time the virus is spreading, that it is in the wild, that it has the potential to mutate and to pose a threat to people everywhere. We’ve seen that over the course of many different permutations of this virus and certainly another reason why we are so focused on helping countries around the world address COVID – another reason why bringing this to a close in China would be beneficial.”
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Leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci gave a similar assessment earlier this month.
“Whenever you have a large wave of transmissions of a virus, you give it ample opportunity to mutate,” Fauci said. “And when you give a virus opportunity to mutate, that allows it to form potentially new variants. And once you get a brand new variant that could have an impact on the rest of the world.”
The first part of Fauci’s analysis is already occurring. Coronavirus infections in China have been increasing so fast that the country is no longer keeping track of asymptomatic infections.
“It is impossible to accurately grasp the actual number of asymptomatic infections,” China’s National Health Commission said in a notice.
Multiple models are predicting the death toll could reach 1 million people. The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that infections in China will peak around April 1, when the death toll reaches 322,000. The projection means that China’s COVID-19 death toll could exceed a million through 2023, according to Reuters.
“However way we look at it, it’s very likely that the next few months are going to be quite challenging for China,” IHME Director Christopher Murray said earlier this month. “The populations at greatest risk in the world are those that have avoided a lot of transmission and have gaps in vaccination. And that’s exactly the case for China.”
China’s official death toll stands at over 5,200, though that number is disputed. Still, most experts agree that the country has not experienced the pandemic as severely as the United States so far and that its strict lockdown measures certainly saved lives. But if the projections play out, adding over a million deaths would put China closer to the U.S. COVID-19 death toll of 1.1 million.
Experts are also worried about the effect the surge will have on China’s economy and the repercussions that could have for the rest of the world.
“Given the size of China’s economy,” Price said that it is “not only good for China to be in a stronger position vis-a-vis COVID, but it’s good for the rest of the world as well.”