TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The sweeping “zero-tolerance” strategy that China has used to keep COVID-19 case numbers low and its economy functioning may, paradoxically, make it harder for the country to exit the pandemic.
Most experts say the coronavirus around the world isn’t going away and believe it could eventually become, like the flu, a persistent but generally manageable threat if enough people gain immunity through infections and vaccines.
In countries like Britain and the U.S., which have had comparatively light restrictions against the omicron wave, there is a glimmer of hope that the process might be underway. Cases skyrocketed in recent weeks but have since dropped in Britain and may have leveled off in the U.S., perhaps because the extremely contagious variant is running out of people to infect. Some places already are talking about easing COVID-19 precautions.
China, which will be in the international spotlight when the Beijing Winter Olympics begin in two weeks, is not seeing the same dynamic.
The communist government’s practice throughout the pandemic of trying to find and isolate every infected person has largely protected hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and staved off the deaths that have engulfed most of the world.
But the uncompromising approach also means most people in China have never been exposed to the virus. At the same time, the effectiveness of China’s most widely used vaccines has been called into question. New studies suggest they offer significantly less protection against infection from omicron, even after three doses, than people get after booster shots of the leading Western vaccines.