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High global Covid-19 mortality rate prevents China from completely reopening borders

13:13 | 28/09/2020

China is unlikely to reopen borders completely as the global mortality rate from Covid-19 remains high.

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Resuming normally is impossible as global death rate remains high

According to South China Morning Post, China cannot completely reopen its borders while the global mortality rate from Covid-19 remains high and there is still the threat of a second wave, according to a leading authority on infectious diseases.

Sporadic outbreaks were possible anywhere at any time, and with the death rate at between 3 and 4 per cent in most countries, it would be unwise to remove travel restrictions, said Zhang Wenhong, director of the infectious disease department at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai.

“The reopening of the world depends on vaccines, which hopefully will be ready in one to two years,” he said at a forum in Shanghai on Saturday.

“While the pandemic is ongoing, China cannot open to the world completely.”

high global covid 19 mortality rate prevents china from completely reopening borders
The time is not yet ripe for China to reopen its borders to the world, an expert says. Photo: AFP

With the spread of the imported cases of Covid-19 largely under control, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement released on Wednesday that entry restrictions for foreigners would be eased “step by step” from Monday.

Foreign nationals holding valid residence permits for work, personal matters or family reunions would be allowed to enter China without applying for new visas, it said.

Beijing in March suspended entry for all foreigners – even those with work permits and visas – as the coronavirus epidemic spread around the world.

However, other restrictions introduced in March – such as visitors having to take a coronavirus test on arrival and complete 14 days of quarantine – would remain in place, the statement said.

high global covid 19 mortality rate prevents china from completely reopening borders
Photo: Today Online.

Covid-19 is continuing to spread across the world

The world has faced up with more than 32 million confirmed cases in 188 countries and a death toll fast approaching 1 million. As the number of infected patients has surged in India and Brazil, so European countries like Spain and France have also seen a new spike in cases, Today Online reported.

The World Health Organization said on Friday that the global death toll from Covid-19 could double to 2 million before a successful vaccine became widely available.

China has not reported a locally transmitted case since the middle of August. Zhang said the country’s tactic had been to respond rapidly to any new infections by intensifying the screening and examination process and imposing strict control measures in the affected area.

high global covid 19 mortality rate prevents china from completely reopening borders
An aerial view shows pre-dug graves at the Vila Formosa Cemetery in Sao Paulo. Photo: Rex Features

The idea was to “extinguish the flame” within a month, he said.

That thinking was exemplified in Qingdao recently. After two workers at the city’s port were confirmed as asymptomatic cases on Thursday, the health authority embarked on a widespread testing programme involving more than 178,000 residents. None of them tested positive for the pathogen.

About 21,000 frozen products and environmental samples collected from two Russian ships at the port were also tested for the coronavirus, and 51 positive results were returned. Those findings resulted in the customs agency suspending import declarations for the two ships responsible for the tainted goods.

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a separate forum on Saturday that it could take at least three years for the world to bring Covid-19 under control.

high global covid 19 mortality rate prevents china from completely reopening borders
Digging up bodies in cemeteries to make room for coronavirus victims in Brazil. Photo: AP

“We need time to observe the coronavirus pandemic, which has not been going on for a year. Even after vaccines are ready, it still takes time to check the results,” he said.

“Some diseases are controlled only many years after vaccines are available.”

Nine vaccine candidates, four of them from China, are currently undergoing the final phase of human trials. The CDC said the first batch of Chinese vaccines would be ready for the general public in November or December.

Lockdowns can't end until Covid-19 vaccine found

Countries wanting to end the lockdown and allow people to move about and work again will have to monitor closely for new infections and adjust the controls they have in place until there is a vaccine against Covid-19, according to a new study based on the Chinese experience.

“Even in the most prosperous and well-resourced megacities like Beijing and Shanghai, healthcare resources are finite, and services will struggle with a sudden increase in demand”, says senior author Prof Gabriel M Leung from the University of Hong Kong. “Our findings highlight the importance of ensuring that local healthcare systems have adequate staffing and resources to minimise Covid-related deaths.”

high global covid 19 mortality rate prevents china from completely reopening borders
Nita Patel, director of antibody discovery and vaccine development at Maryland-based Novavax labs, lifts a vial containing a potential coronavirus vaccine on March 20. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

According to The Guardian, allowing the rate of infections to rise again “would probably incur both marginally higher health and economic loss”, even if tough measures are put back in place to bring the numbers of cases back down.

Striking a balance between allowing economic activities and keeping controls tight enough to prevent a rise in infections “is likely to be the optimal strategy until effective vaccines become widely available, despite the fact that control policies, including social distancing, behavioural change and public awareness will probably be maintained for some time”.

high global covid 19 mortality rate prevents china from completely reopening borders
Sisi Ndebele, receives a seasonal influenza vaccine from a nurse at a local pharmacy clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday, April 24, 2020. - Copyright Themba Hadebe/AP Photo
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