Covid: China CDC shares genomic data with WHO, says 2 variants driving the surge

China’s CDC (Center for Disease Control) has shared Covid genomic data with the WHO, the global health organisation said on Wednesday. For locally-acquired infections, it said, data presented were based on more than 2000 genomes collected and sequenced from 1 December 2022.

The WHO said that the China CDC analysis showed a predominance of Omicron lineages BA.5.2 and BF.7 among locally acquired infections. “BA.5.2 and BF.7 together accounted for 97.5% of all local infections as per genomic sequencing,” it said, adding that a few other known Omicron sublineages were also detected albeit in low percentages.

These variants are known and have been circulating in other countries, and at the present time, no new variant has been reported by the China CDC.

China has witnessed a record surge in Covid cases in the past few weeks. As the daily infections went up, China’s National Health Commission, in a sudden move, stopped publishing daily Covid numbers. While reports from China showed hospital running out of beds and funeral stations full, official numbers remained low.   

Last month, the WHO asked Beijing to provide data about the surge to detect new variants if any. Today again, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked China to share more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing.

Tedros said the WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China. He also backed countries that have imposed fresh travel curbs on Chinese passengers in the wake of rising infections. 

With infection circulation in China so high and comprehensive data not forthcoming, he said it is understandable that some countries are taking steps they believe will protect their own citizens.

Just days ago, China called the new travel cub move ‘purely unreasonable’ and warned of a similar move by Beijing.  

A global advisory group on virus evolution (TAG-VE) meets regularly to review the latest scientific evidence on Covid variants and advises the WHO on whether a change in public health strategies is warranted. The advisory group met on Tuesday to discuss the Covid situation in mainland China.

The WHO said that as of 3 January, 773 sequences from mainland China had been submitted to the GISAID EpiCoV database, with the majority (564 sequences) collected after 1 December 2022.

Of those, only 95 are labeled as locally acquired cases, 187 as imported cases and 261 do not have this information provided. “Of the locally acquired cases, 95% belong to BA.5.2 or BF.7 lineages,” it said.

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