Caixin
Sep 22, 2020 08:29 PM
OPINION

Zhang Wenhong: Second Virus Wave 'Inevitable' in China This Winter

Zhang Wenhong, director of the infectious diseases department at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai.
Zhang Wenhong, director of the infectious diseases department at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai.

Zhang Wenhong is director of the infectious diseases department at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai. This article is based on the remarks he gave Sunday at a forum organized by Shanghai Communication University.

The U.K. prime minister claims that a second wave of the coronavirus has begun in his country. A second wave of the virus hit France and Spain about half a month ago. In China, people are questioning whether there will be a second wave this winter. There will be. It is inevitable.

How has the novel coronavirus gotten so out of control? And why does the situation differ so much among different countries? It’s because of the coronavirus’s unusual characteristics. The new coronavirus has a very high infection rate, but a low fatality rate, which makes it quite unlike Ebola, SARS or the H1N9 flu. These unique characteristics cause the virus to spread continuously around the world.

The coronavirus mainly affects the elderly. Young people don’t usually get seriously ill unless the medical system breaks down. Some 85% of fatal cases in the U.S. involve people over the age of 55. As of Aug. 23, only 309 of the more than 150,000 Americans who had died from coronavirus at the time were under the age of 24. That’s fewer than the number who die from the flu. In Mexico, 70% of Covid-19 deaths involve people who are under 55 because the country’s health care system is overloaded and has broken down.

Under these circumstances, young people in the United States and other countries are indifferent about the pandemic. Also, large-scale quarantine cannot be achieved. The “not so deadly” coronavirus resulted in a deadly pandemic.

Given the structure of the Chinese political system, we need to adopt a strategy of complete quarantine in the event of a flare-up. The key to the strategy is to succeed in containing any flare-up within one month; otherwise, those flare-ups will grow exponentially. Right now, China is still at risk from imported cases. Recently, the central government has been sending teams to each province to check on their systems for preventing imported cases from triggering outbreaks.

What should we do next? Based on the available facts, the new coronavirus will last for a very long time. Up to 80% of Covid-19 infections are asymptomatic, which poses a huge risk to vulnerable groups. Western countries have chosen to wait for a vaccine. Once a vaccine is invented, the vulnerable group will be protected, and the mortality rate will drop to the level of conventional influenza, which has an overall mortality rate less than 0.5%.

However, this goal will not be achieved within a year. It takes time to research and develop a vaccine and then establish a reliable supply.

There is great uncertainty in this world. There are nearly 800,000 unknown viruses in the animal kingdom, any of which could spread to the human population at any time. With the extent that people now travel the world, there is always the risk that another pandemic will break out. The coronavirus outbreak was not accidental, but inevitable.

Translated by intern reporter Hou Xinle.

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