China Gears Up for Potential Surge in Weekly Covid Cases, Estimated at 65 Million

By the end of June, China may be experiencing 65 million new instances of Covid-19 infections per week. Zhong Nanshan, an expert on respiratory diseases, made this ominous forecast at a biotech symposium in Guangzhou. Zhong’s assessment offers a rare window into the potential consequences of the most recent omicron variety, XBB, which has been driving a rise in cases across China since late April.

By the end of May, XBB is predicted to cause 40 million infections per week before reaching a peak of 65 million a month later, according to a Bloomberg study. This occurs over six months after Beijing removed its Covid Zero limitations, allowing the virus to quickly spread among the 1.4 billion people living there. The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention ceased updating its weekly numbers earlier this month as a result of this shift to accepting the virus, raising significant concerns about the true severity of Covid-19 in China.

According to Zhong’s prediction, this wave of illnesses would be less severe than the one that rocked China in late 2016 and early 2017. A different omicron sublineage was probably infecting 37 million people per day at that time, overflowing hospitals and cemeteries, and forcing locals to compete for scarce supplies of fever medication.

China is hastily adding new vaccines that especially target XBB to its vaccine arsenal in response to this fresh threat. Two of these vaccines have already received preliminary approval from the nation’s medicines regulator, and another three or four are anticipated to follow soon. According to Zhong, “We can lead the pack internationally in the development of more efficient vaccines.”

Recently, a World Health Organisation (WHO) advisory group suggested that one of the prevalent XBB types should be targeted in this year’s COVID-19 booster doses. Other formulations or platforms that create neutralizing antibody responses against XBB lineages should also be taken into consideration. New formulations should seek to produce antibody responses to the XBB.1.5 or XBB.1.16 variations.

The group recommends excluding the original COVID-19 strain from future vaccines, citing evidence that it is no longer prevalent among humans and vaccines targeting it generate negligible or minimal levels of neutralizing antibodies against the currently circulating variants.

Vaccine producers for COVID-19, including Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna Inc., and Novavax Inc., are already working on versions of their respective vaccines that will target XBB.1.5 and other strains that are now circulating. The COVID-19 vaccine strain compositions will be discussed in a meeting of outside specialists to be held by the US Food and Drug Administration in June; after the strains are chosen, vaccine producers will be expected to update their products.

It is unclear how well these new vaccines will work to stop the spread of XBB as China gets ready for this next round of infections. It is obvious that the battle against Covid-19 is far from done with millions more cases anticipated each week.