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Health expert Zhong Nanshan is recommending booster shots and masks to fend off Omicron. Photo: AP

China might be back to pre-Covid normal by mid-2023, health expert Zhong Nanshan forecasts

  • People who want to travel home over Lunar New Year should get a booster shot to minimise virus spread, Zhong says
  • Wear masks and skip panic buying of fever medications, he suggests
China should ramp up vaccination to avoid an epidemic of Covid-19 infections over the Lunar New Year, but could return to some normality by the middle of next year, according to a leading infectious disease expert.
“It is highly unlikely that people will be restricted from travelling home for Lunar New Year celebrations in 2023, but it is still important to step up preparations,” state news agency Xinhua quoted Zhong Nanshan as saying in an interview in the southern city of Guangzhou on Friday.

“I suggest that people who are ready to travel back home should get booster vaccinations so that they won’t develop serious symptoms even if they catch Covid.

“A booster shot usually takes effect in two weeks. It will help to prevent mass transmission during the Lunar New Year migration when people gather in crowds.”


Excitement and anxiety as China starts to reopen after zero-Covid

Excitement and anxiety as China starts to reopen after zero-Covid

Under the zero-Covid policy of the past three years, Chinese authorities have urged the public to stay put and avoid travel during holidays, including Lunar New Year, a time when people catch up with their family.

But the policy dealt a heavy blow to the economy and authorities have been abandoning the toughest restrictions in the past few weeks.

In the latest relaxation on Wednesday, authorities allowed home quarantine for people with mild and asymptomatic infections. Mass PCR testing was also dismantled and the country resumed its vaccination drive.

Infections have surged in big cities like Beijing and Guangzhou as social and economic activity has picked up slowly. Analysts said the economic recovery would be bumpy as the mass infections would continue to disrupt the economy, with normal life only expected to return later next year.


Beijing begins to ease Covid rules, but business areas remain deserted

Beijing begins to ease Covid rules, but business areas remain deserted

By analysing cases in Guangzhou, one of the epicentres of the current Omicron wave, Zhong and his research team forecast infections to peak in the city in late January or mid-February.

“I was asked when our lives can return to where we were in 2019 [before Covid broke out]. My view is that in the first half of next year after March,” said Zhong, who rose to prominence during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars.

“Although I can’t guarantee it, the trend says it should be around that time.”

The projection was similar to Shanghai-based doctor Zhang Wenhong’s suggestion that the Covid wave in the financial centre would peak in one month and take between three and six months to get over.

In an article in financial news outlet Caixin on Sunday, Zhang said medical workers were highly likely to become infected and preparations were needed to avoid a squeeze on medical resources.

The most vulnerable members of the population also needed to be protected, he said.

China targets online pharmacies for price gouging on Covid-19 medication

Citing Covid studies from Qatar and Denmark, Zhong and his team said it was rare for people who tested positive for the Omicron variant to catch the virus again for a long time.

“In that sense, having Omicron is equivalent to getting a Covid vaccination,” Zhong said. “Of course, this is not to encourage people to catch Omicron.”

Zhong stressed the need to wear masks to prevent virus transmission but he discouraged people from rushing out to snap up fever and cold medication, saying it was unnecessary to stock up on the drugs because it caused mass panic and most people with Omicron recovered on their own.

Since the relaxation of the Covid policy in China, sales of drugs such as fever, flu, cough, and antibacterial medication, and rapid antigen test kits have soared. Customers face queues for these supplies for up to six days on online shopping platforms such as Meituan and Dingdang Health.

There has also reportedly been a rash of people taking a combination of drugs to try to ward off the coronavirus, resulting in liver damage.

Doctors have warned people not to take drug combinations without professional guidance because of the threat of severe poisoning.