Chinese health authorities are racing to catch new mutant COVID strains, as more than a third of Omicron variants detected in the crushing wave of infections slamming the country have resulted in larger outbreaks.

Over the past three months, China has detected over 130 sublineages of Omicron, including BF.7, a variant incredibly adept at evading immunity and believed to be behind the current surge in infections.

Xu Wenbo, head of the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention, said last week that China plans to track the virus centers around three city hospitals in each province. There, samples will be taken from sick walk-in patients as well as from patients who die.

Wenbo confirmed that 50 of the 130 Omicron versions found in China had resulted in outbreaks.

hospital in China
China plans to track the virus centers around three city hospitals in each province, Chinese health officials said last week.
REUTERS
china hospital
Over the past three months, China has detected over 130 sublineages of Omicron.
REUTERS

He said the country is working to create a national genetic database so it can monitor how each strain evolves and study each mutation’s possible impacts on public health.

Every new infection creates a new chance for the virus to mutate. With COVID spreading rapidly in China, as many as 248 million people — nearly 18% of China’s population — came down with the virus in the first 20 days of December.

The country of 1.4 billion has done a complete reversal of its “zero COVID” policy earlier this month. The abrupt policy shift has caused China’s largest outbreak of COVID infections since the start of the pandemic and left hospitals swamped, turning away ambulances and unable to care for some critical patients.

Some 37 million people may have contracted COVID-19 in China on Dec. 20 alone.

china covid
Some 37 million people may have contracted COVID-19 in China on Dec. 20 alone.
REUTERS

While vaccination rates are high, booster levels, particularly among older people, are lower. Many received the vaccine over a year ago, meaning their immunity has waned.

Experts warn that a partially immune population like China’s likely causes the virus to adapt and create new mutations.

Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, compared the virus to a boxer who “learns to evade the skills that you have and adapt to get around those.”

“When we’ve seen big waves of infection, it’s often followed by new variants being generated,” Ray said.

It’s unclear whether a new variant will cause more severe disease and worse illness in those infected, particularly in China as the country experiences a massive wave of infections.

China covid
Big waves of COVID infections often lead to new varients forming, health experts said.
REUTERS

Health experts have warned that there is no biological reason for the virus to become more mild over time, and that severe disease may continue to spread.

“Much of the mildness we’ve experienced over the past six to 12 months in many parts of the world has been due to accumulated immunity either through vaccination or infection, not because the virus has changed” in severity, Ray said.

With Post wires



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