WHO is “very concerned” about reports of severe COVID in China

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization said the agency was “very concerned” about the increase in reports of serious coronavirus illnesses in China after the country largely abandoned its policy ” zero COVID,” warning that its lagging vaccination rate could result in large numbers of vulnerable people becoming infected.

In a news conference on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency needs more information on the severity of COVID-19 in China, particularly as it relates to hospital and unit admissions. of intensive care, “in order to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground.”

“WHO is very concerned about the evolving situation in China with increasing reports of serious diseases,” said Tedros. He added that while COVID deaths are down more than 90% from their global peak, there was still too much uncertainty about the virus to conclude the pandemic was over.

Some scientists have warned that the unchecked spread of COVID-19 in China could spur the emergence of new variants, which could reveal the progress globally made to contain the pandemic.

“Vaccination is the exit strategy from Omicron,” said WHO emergencies chief Dr Michael Ryan.

Ryan said the explosive surge in cases in China wasn’t solely due to the lifting of many of the country’s restrictive policies and that it was impossible to stop the transmission of omicrons, the most infectious variant of COVID-19 ever.

He said vaccination rates among people over the age of 60 in China lagged behind many other countries and that the effectiveness of Chinese-made vaccines was about 50%.

“This is not adequate protection in a population as large as China, with so many vulnerable people,” Ryan said. He added that while China has significantly increased its ability to vaccinate people in recent weeks, it’s unclear if that will be enough.

To date, China has refused to authorize Western-made messenger RNA vaccines, which have proven to be more effective than locally produced injections. Beijing has agreed to allow a shipment of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to be imported for Germans living in China.

“The question remains whether or not enough vaccination can be done in the next few weeks or two weeks to actually reduce the impact of the second wave and the burden on the healthcare system,” Ryan said.

Like Tedros, he said WHO did not have enough information on the extent of severe illness and hospitalization, but noted that nearly all countries overwhelmed by COVID-19 have struggled to share that data in real time.

Ryan also suggested that China’s definition of COVID deaths was too narrow, saying the country was limiting it to people who have suffered from respiratory failure.

“People who die of COVID die from many different (organ) system failures, given the severity of the infection,” Ryan said. “So limiting a diagnosis of COVID death to someone with a positive COVID test and respiratory failure will greatly underestimate the true death toll associated with COVID.”

Countries like Britain, for example, define any COVID death as someone who died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.

Globally, nearly every country is grappling with how to count deaths from COVID, and the official numbers are believed to be a gross underreport. In May, WHO estimated there were nearly 15 million coronavirus deaths worldwide, more than double the official toll of 6 million.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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