China is bracing for new wave of XBB Covid variant, could see 65 million cases weekly: Expert


China is bracing for a massive wave of Covid cases and the new wave may witness a peak towards the end of June, a prominent infectious disease expert has warned. Zhong Nanshan, director of the National Clinical Research Center for Respiratory Disease, recently said that China is likely to report around 65 million infections weekly.

Since April, China has witnessed a surge in coronavirus cases, fueled by Omicron variant XBB. By the end of this month, the country is likely to report 40 million infections in a week, before peaking at 65 million weekly by the end of June, he reportedly said in a presentation at a biotech conference in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Zhong also said this wave of infections was triggered by the omicron subvariant XBB, which is spreading rapidly in parts of the world, according to a report from Nanfang Daily, the official newspaper of the Guangdong provincial committee of Communist Party of China.

XBB, a hybrid of Omicron’s BA.2.75 and BJ.1 sub-variants, is believed to have immune evasive properties.

The new outbreak could be the largest wave of infections since China scrapped its zero-Covid policy in December last year. In the earlier wave, China had likely reported 37 million infection cases in a day, making it the largest single-day spike ever. Now, the new model has indicated a massive resurgence in Covid cases.

China has begun preparation to battle the new wave of cases. It has new Covid vaccines in the pipeline, which will target XBB variants. The country’s drug regulator has given preliminary approval to two, while three or four “will be cleared soon”, Nanshan said.

The resurgence warning comes just weeks after the WHO said that Covid was no longer a global emergency. Earlier this month, the global health body said that even though the emergency phase was over, the pandemic hasn’t come to an end.

A WHO advisory group on Thursday recommended that this year’s Covid booster shots be updated to target one of the currently dominant XBB variants, Reuters reported. 

New formulations should aim to produce antibody responses to the XBB.1.5 or XBB.1.16 variants, the advisory group said, adding that other formulations that achieve neutralising antibody responses against XBB lineages could also be considered.

The group suggested no longer including the original Covid strain in future vaccines, based on data that the original virus no longer circulates in human beings and shots targeting the strain produce “undetectable or very low levels of neutralizing antibodies” against currently circulating variants.

According to the report, Covid vaccine makers like Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, and Novavax Inc are already developing versions of their respective vaccines targeting XBB.1.5 and other currently circulating strains.

(With inputs from Reuters)