Beijing reaches 'temporary herd immunity'

Beijing reaches 'temporary herd immunity'

Health officials confident that worst of China's Covid wave has passed

Travellers check the train timetable display at a railway station in Beijing on Jan 13. (Photo: Reuters)
Travellers check the train timetable display at a railway station in Beijing on Jan 13. (Photo: Reuters)

BEIJING: Beijing has reached “temporary herd immunity” and its Covid outbreak is nearing an end, a city health official said on Tuesday, in another sign China’s unprecedented virus wave is waning.

A torrent of cases has cascaded through the world’s most populous nation since the ruling Communist Party abruptly ended its zero-Covid policy last month.

The surge packed hospitals and crematoriums in major cities including Beijing, though the scale of the outbreak is hard to verify given that official data is believed to represent a tiny fraction of the true number of cases.

But there have been indications that the surge has started to tail off, with authorities saying last week that the number of daily Covid deaths nationwide had fallen by nearly 80% since the start of January.

Wang Quanyi, deputy director of Beijing’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, told local media on Tuesday that the city of 22 million had “established temporary herd immunity protection”.

“This wave of infections in Beijing has already peaked and is now coming to an end,” the Beijing News quoted Wang as saying.

The capital was “currently in a state of sporadic infections” with the virus exhibiting “relatively low risk of transmission”, Wang said.

The number of people seeking treatment for flu-like diseases at major Beijing hospitals fell by over 40% between Jan 23 and 29 compared to the previous week, the newspaper reported, citing official data.

A nationwide decline in the number of infections suggested that the end of the Lunar New Year holiday would “not have too much of an impact” as people returned to Beijing from other parts of the country, Wang said.

He added that the city would survey thousands of residents in February and March to establish how many had antibodies against Covid in their blood plasma.

The survey will “comprehensively assess Beijing’s state of coronavirus infection” and “provide a reference for optimising resource allocation in the future”, Wang said.

In a related development, all visitors on direct flights from South Korea will be required to take a PCR test upon arrival in China starting from Wednesday. Those testing positive for Covid will be quarantined, the South Korean Embassy in Beijing said on Tuesday.

The measure is a stronger retaliatory step against the neighbouring country, which extended its restrictions on issuing short-term visas for travellers from China through Feb 28.

The embassy said details of quarantine measures for those testing positive, such as duration and costs, and when they will be terminated, remained unclear.

South Korea, Japan and several other countries have strengthened border controls for travellers from China, which reopened its borders and scrapped quarantine measures on Jan 8 amid fears over widespread Covid infections in the country.

On Jan 10, Beijing halted visa issuance for Japanese and South Korean travellers, criticising the entry restrictions on visitors from China as “discriminatory”. But visa restrictions on Japanese citizens were lifted on Sunday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning expressed regret at a press conference Tuesday that some countries still adopt discriminatory entry restrictions against travellers from China.

“China firmly opposes this and has reasons to take necessary reciprocal measures,” she said.

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