‘No new variants’ emerge in China after country’s huge COVID wave

An Asian female doctor holds a throat swab
China's 1.4 billion people were abruptly exposed to the virus after the government ended the strict lockdown. (Getty)

Despite warnings that China’s decision to end its ‘zero-COVID’ policy might lead to new variants emerging, none have emerged.

Experts had warned that the move late last year could lead to new strains which might be more vaccine-resistant, transmissible or deadly.

But a study by Chinese researchers focusing on 413 samples from Beijing late last year, found, “There is no evidence that novel variants emerged.”

More than 90% of cases were two Omicron sub-variants, BF.7 and BA5.2.

Lead study author George Gao, a virologist at the Institute of Microbiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, "Our analysis suggests two known Omicron sub-variants – rather than any new variants – have chiefly been responsible for the current surge in Beijing, and likely China as a whole.”

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Beijing's abrupt axing of those ultra-strict curbs late last year unleashed the virus on the nation's 1.4 billion people.

Many had little immunity after being shielded since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan three years ago.

Several countries introduced measures such as pre-departure COVID tests for arrivals from China.

China's COVID-related deaths between 27 January and 2 February this year in hospitals totalled 3,278, the country's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement this week.

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Among them, 131 died of respiratory failure caused by the new coronavirus infection, and 3,147 died of other diseases combined with the infection, the CDC said.

The latest figure takes the total number of people who died in hospitals with COVID in China since 8 December to 82,238, according to CDC data.

But some experts said that figure probably vastly undercounts the full impact, as it excludes those who die at home and because doctors say that they have been discouraged from attributing deaths to COVID.

China abruptly ended its strict zero-COVID policy on 7 December after three years, prompting a massive surge of infections across the world's most populous country.

The CDC said last week that daily COVID-related deaths at hospitals have fallen by 79% since their peak of 4,273 on Jan. 4.

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