Editor’s note: The print version of this article has been updated to reflect new research on Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant.
Tono Hear local Officials have told it that the Omicron subvariant of covid-19 spreading in China is fairly mild. According to state media, it was no worse than the flu. You see, the virus has mutated into a less dangerous form, so it was reasonable and prudent to lift restrictions earlier this month. At least, the government wants people to believe that. is this correct?
When assessing the threat of a subvariant, two features are most important. The first is its inherent ability to spread, or its ability to spread without defenses. This goes a long way in identifying the risk of cases overwhelming hospitals.
The Chinese covid strain is a version of Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant. In a paper published on Dec. 14, researchers at the University of Hong Kong estimated that BA.5 was more than three times as transmissible as the original Wuhan strain, generating 8.3 new cases per infection. So the government’s argument is off to a bad start. But the Chinese are helping it by wearing masks and staying at home, slowing the spread of the virus and taking pressure off hospitals.
The second important characteristic is severity.China claims bachelorThe .5 is less threatening than its predecessor. In general, the Omicron is indeed less serious than its predecessor, the Delta variant. Some scientists believe Omicron is at the same level as the Wuhan strain. But whether the spread of Omicron subvariants in China is less serious than previous Omicron subvariants is another question.A study in the United States bachelorThe .2 subvariant was found to be less dangerous than the original Omicron strain.Another Hong Konger found bachelor.2 Similar in severity to the Wuhan strain.There is little evidence of how bachelor.5 comparison, though.
In many western countries, the mortality rate of covid patients is indeed similar to the mortality rate of influenza patients. In the UK, 35 out of every 100,000 infected people died from Omicron, a rate much lower than that of the Wuhan strain. But this dramatic drop in lethality has nothing to do with how the virus mutates. Instead, it is thanks to more people acquiring antibodies against the new coronavirus through some combination of vaccination and infection. China’s undervaccinated population has fewer antibodies, and its vaccines are not as effective at preventing serious diseases as those in the West.
Another big reason covid has become less deadly is that there are now better treatments. Paxlovid, an antiviral drug, cut hospitalization rates for the most vulnerable covid patients by nearly 90%. Dexamethasone is an inexpensive steroid that significantly reduces mortality in most afflicted patients. Whether China has enough of these drugs, or a system in place to get them to patients in need, is unclear.
Those infected in China are doing better today than they were in the early days of the pandemic. But covid is still worse than flu in this country. This will not be the case until China reaches the level of immunity seen in the West, until it has enough drugs and intensive care beds to treat most of the people who need them. ■
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