The devastating surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths in India has increased the risk of flare-ups in neighboring countries, including China, and raised fresh alarms against easing virus vigilance, officials and experts have said.
They stressed that international travel restrictions and widespread social distancing measures must continue to be enforced in China, especially as a travel boom is predicted for the upcoming five-day International Workers’ Day holiday starting on Saturday. Mass vaccination in the country should also be ramped up to accelerate building herd immunity.
“We had expected the pandemic situation to stabilize and come under basic control by the end of this year, but the situation in India has jolted us into alertness again. The fight is not over, and it is not time for slacking,” said Zhang Boli, president of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a leading expert on China’s fight against the disease.
India has reported over 300,000 new cases daily for several consecutive days, shattering the previous one-day world record and accounting for about 38 percent of new global infections registered from April 19 to 25, according to the World Health Organization.
Major drivers behind the case spike in India include mass gatherings of people, transmission of more contagious variants and low vaccination rates, WHO experts have said.
Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Asia has become a new hot spot in the pandemic and the rampage of the virus in India is likely to spread to neighboring countries, Some variants detected in India have already been found in incoming passengers in China, he added.
“India’s epidemic situation has sounded an alarm to the world,” Wu said. “Although the development and rollout of vaccines have raised hope of subduing the virus, the task actually remains complicated and requires persistent efforts,” he said.
“Enforcing disease control measures is the key to cutting the transmission of new strains and staving off the emergence of new variants,” he said.
Feng Zijian, deputy director-general of the China CDC, said during an interview with Xinhua News Agency that China has implemented rigorous and consistent precautionary measures to ward off the risk of imported cases, and they have been effective and will continue to work if they are enforced strictly.
“As a result, the new wave of outbreaks in India will not exert much impact in China overall,” he said. “But we must remain highly vigilant due to the mounting pressure from foreign outbreaks.”
Feng added that China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, have challenges to vaccinating at least 70 percent of their populations to establish herd immunity.
Nearly 244 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in China as of Wednesday, the National Health Commission reported. It said on Thursday that the national vaccination campaigns will not be suspended during the upcoming five-day holiday.
“We must actively push for mass vaccination,” Feng said. “It is also suggested that India expedite vaccination coverage because mass inoculation is the only way to build an immunity barrier, as well as lessen or eradicate repercussions of the COVID-19 outbreak at the root,” he said.
China had reported no new domestic infections for 13 consecutive days as of Wednesday, officials said. But the public is urged to stick to regular virus control measures during the holiday.
Li Huaqiang, deputy director of the Ministry of Transport’s transportation services department, said on Thursday that about 265 million passenger trips were expected during the upcoming holiday, close to the total recorded in 2019.