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90% of China could contract COVID, warns one of Beijing’s top medical advisers

On Wednesday, Beijing announced sweeping changes to its COVID restrictions. Mild, asymptomatic cases would be allowed to self-isolate at home, rather than being sent to government isolation facilities. Officials would no longer require PCR tests and the ubiquitous health code app to enter public places or travel between Chinese cities. Blocks would be limited to individual floors or buildings, rather than entire districts.

Feng Zijian, former deputy head of the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a top medical adviser in Beijing, expected on Tuesday that 60% of China could be infected with COVID in an initial wave of cases as China eases its policies.

By the time the disease works its way into the population, up to 90 percent of China would have been infected, he continued.

By comparison, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in April that 60% of Americans had contracted COVID-19, up from 34% the previous December.

“It will be inevitable for most of us to get infected once, no matter how COVID-fighting measures are adapted,” Feng said on Tuesday.

How much worse could the COVID wave get in China?

An “inevitable” rise in COVID cases would complicate China’s path out of COVID-zero. Beijing has avoided the massive outbreaks seen in nearly every other country with a hard… e unpopular– policy of blockades, mass testing and border controls.

Yet experts note that China’s containment of COVID means that the Chinese population lacks the immunity found in other countries, which could allow the disease to spread rapidly once measures are lifted.

China could face “millions of new cases daily for a few months, which would be orders of magnitude higher than the highest number the country has witnessed so far,” put on guard Goldman Sachs in a research note on Sunday, before China announced its new rules.

Low vaccination rates among the elderly in China can also make an outbreak more deadly. only 40% of those over 80 received a third dose of the vaccine.

China has pledged to vaccinate more of its elderly population, but it may not be fast enough. “If they really accelerate,” China could vaccinate 70 percent of its population over 80 by the end of the year, but “many people will probably die,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief economist at investment bank Natixis recently. Fortune.

One model predicted that China could report up to 20,000 COVID deaths a day if it reopened at its current pace.

An unchecked outbreak could also create new COVID variants, Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, cautioned Wednesday.

Why is China reopening now?

But Beijing likely cannot afford to delay reopening any longer as China’s economy sags under the weight of sudden lockdowns and travel restrictions. The country’s economy is expected to miss Beijing’s GDP growth target of 5.5% in 2022: Bloomberg poll of economists gives a consensus estimate of only 3.2% GDP growth for the year.

November’s record COVID outbreak dragged the economy down further as officials hastily imposed lockdowns in an effort to control cases. China’s exports decreased by 8.7% year over year in November, its steepest decline in more than two years and far worse than analysts’ expectations of a 3.5% decline.

The disruptions due to COVID are unnerving foreign companies that rely on the country for manufacturing. After a COVID outbreak in the manufacturing center of Zhengzhou, the “iPhone City” in China, Apple is now considering using factories in other countries such as India And Vietnam.

“China cannot afford to lose the jobs offered by foreign companies,” Garcia-Herrero said earlier Fortune.

Protests in Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou over the weekend of Nov. 26 also likely hastened the government’s decision to ease the measures.

But economists warn that even an early reopening will not cause an immediate economic rebound. A massive outbreak, even without a large death toll, would disrupt China’s economy while workers affected by COVID stay at home.

“Many people will fall ill, which could result in factories being closed or facilities unable to operate at full capacity,” Zhang Zhiwei, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, told the newspaper. South China Morning Post on Monday.