Home / Opinion / Views /  Mint Explainer: Five lessons for India from China's war on covid

Covid cases are swelling in China, with the number of new daily cases at all-time highs. And these are just the reported numbers. The actual tally may be much higher, because almost 90% of the cases in the latest outbreak are asymptomatic. Also, there are doubts about the official figures from Beijing. For India and the world, there are lessons from China - the pandemic can resurface with more transmissible variants, and booster doses are imperative to contain their impact.

1. Beware of new variants

China is buffeted by a new wave of covid, with new cases crossing 31,000 on Thursday, attributed to new, more infectious Omicron variants. That perhaps explains why cases have surged despite China persisting with its zero-covid policy and localized lockdowns, though perhaps less intense than in the past. About 27,500 of the cases reported on Thursday, or almost 90% of the total, were asymptomatic, representing a major challenge for authorities, and the actual numbers may indeed be much higher. Also, the official covid figures from China have often been questioned.

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2. Scale up vaccination, booster doses

It's "very hard" to prevent the new Omicron variants from spreading, says the World Health Organization. The virus is evolving, making it tougher to contain its spread. China needs to step up vaccination of its elderly – less than 60% of the people between 60-69 have been fully vaccinated. In fact, some studies in China show that a third booster dose significantly neutralizes the covid threat. China still lags behind in booster shots, and so does India and many other parts of the world.

3. Learn to live with covid

The new wave comes at a time when China's economy is slowing down, and localized lockdowns threaten it further. Its zero-covid policy had arrested the spread of covid in the past, but it remains to be seen how effective this approach will be this time. There is also greater local resistance, as small businesses bear the brunt of repeated lockdowns. China claims to have eradicated extreme poverty, but its zero-covid policy may impoverish many. The government is already talking about a more "targeted" approach with selective lockdowns. Meanwhile, if the outbreak persists, it could aggravate supply chain disruptions in the global economy. Chongqing and Henan, the epicentres of this outbreak, are key electronics manufacturing hubs. Zhengzhou in central Henan province, which has the world's largest iPhone assembly plant run by Foxconn, is already under a lockdown.

4. Stay vigilant

As the global economy strives to recover from the pandemic, the China outbreak serves as a reminder that the threat is still alive. Newer variants may be more resistant to vaccines and spread faster. The hunt for more effective vaccines that can prevent infections, instead of just reducing the severity of infections, will have to continue. And countries like India and China will have to step up their booster dose campaign to minimize the impact of any future outbreaks. Meanwhile, vigil on outbound travel from covid hotspots around the world will have to continue, to detect and prevent its spread. China, in fact, had only just about begun lifting international travel restrictions imposed after the pandemic spread across the world.

5. Watch the impact on economy

The Chinese experience highlights the need for India to administer booster doses on a mass scale. About 70% of Indians have still not taken a third shot yet, though the country is sitting on adequate vaccine stocks. In Hong Kong, the elderly who have not completed vaccination have been the worst hit, with relatively higher mortality rates. And the potency of Chinese vaccines has been found to improve with a third booster dose. Meanwhile, as China struggles to contain Covid, it will impact its trade with the rest of the world, including with India. India’s merchandise exports to China shrank in September and engineering exports declined almost 64% in October. However, over the medium to long term, as the world looks beyond China – or adopts a China+1 strategy – to derisk supply chains, it opens up opportunities for the Modi government to promote its 'Make in India' programme.

WAR ON THE VIRUS

* Booster vaccine doses are a must to contain future outbreaks

* Covid remains a big threat for the world. We must keep vigil

* Vaccines need to become more potent to contain covid

* The world must learn to live with covid. Localized lockdowns must be the last resort

* China’s zero-covid policy may open up doors for Modi’s “Make in India"

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