China’s Covid outbreak and Philippine elections

China is experiencing its worst Covid outbreak since the lockdowns in Wuhan. The latest flare-up stems from the highly transmissible Omicron BA.2 variant, which is even more contagious than the original Omicron. Covid infections are falling through cracks as the virus speeds from city to city faster than screening measures are implemented.

With its Zero Covid approach, China initially succeeded in halting the spread of the virus. This was achieved through strong measures such as mobility control, including vaccination and non-pharmaceutical interventions like contact tracing, quarantine and lockdowns. These measures proved to be efficient in fighting the outbreak in Beijing in June 2020.

From Bloomberg: “Shanghai’s coronavirus outbreak continued unabated with more than 23,500 new cases, while the northwestern Chinese city of Xian said it will temporarily impose a partial lockdown after reporting dozens of infections this month. China reported 24,680 new daily infections for Friday, according to the National Health Commission. More than 80 percent of Shanghai’s cases were asymptomatic as the virus continues to spread despite the weeks-long lockdown of 25 million people in the financial hub.”

A Bloomberg News analysis said the current Covid surge in China was preceded by an influx of imported cases from Hong Kong. The uptick in cases in Shenzhen and Shanghai—key entry points into the mainland—came shortly after a surge in infections was recorded in quarantined travelers coming from Hong Kong. While China isolates everyone coming into the country for at least two weeks in line with its Covid Zero policy, health officials in both Shenzhen and Shanghai have pointed to lax oversight in quarantine facilities for arrivals as a potential cause for the virus’s spread, Bloomberg said. 

“Contact tracing data released by Shenzhen’s health authorities show that the earliest domestic cases in February stemmed from staff working at quarantine hotels, while Shanghai’s government has also acknowledged the role of “lapses in management” of imported cases in quarantine driving local outbreaks. China may be mute on whether Hong Kong was the source of its current outbreak, but its actions indicate officials recognize the risk,” Bloomberg said. 

In the Philippines, experts in epidemiologic modeling of the Department of Health are seeing a possible increase in Covid-19 cases due to a decline in the population’s compliance with minimum public health standards, which is vital to stop the virus from spreading. They said the country may have had a low number of cases from March to April, but Filipinos have been observing minimum public health standards less (by -7 percent nationwide, and -12 percent in the National Capital Region) during the same period (Read, “Experts see spike in Covid-19 cases if compliance with minimum health protocols keeps declining,” in the BusinessMirror, April 14, 2022).

Based on the disease models, a 20-percent decrease in minimum public health standards compliance at the national level could lead to around 34,788 active cases in mid-May, with over 564 of these as severe and 267 critical; while a 30-percent decrease in minimum public health standards compliance might bring the cases up further to as high as 300,000 in mid-May. The DOH said this figure is higher than the largest recorded number of active cases at 291,618 during the peak of the Omicron wave in January 2022.

Within NCR, estimates showed that a 50-percent decrease in minimum public health standards compliance may lead to around 25,000 to 60,000 new cases per day, bringing the number of NCR active cases to almost half a million by mid-May.

However, if Filipinos are to strictly observeminimum public health standards, in addition to getting fully vaccinated and also up to date with their boosters, and assuming no new variant of concern comes in, the experts said the number of active cases nationwide could decrease and then plateau from 26,256 as of April 12 to just around 1,293 to 16,934 in mid-May.

The coming May 9 election has the potential to become a national super spreader event if we are not careful. It pays to take health precautions seriously. We can all help maintain or reduce our current low number of cases. Lowering transmission will lessen the possibility of emergence of new variants that can spark widespread infections.

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