China's Guangdong could see 75,000 daily COVID cases if curbs are lifted - study

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Travellers ride escalators ahead of China's National Day and Golden Week holiday, at Shenzhen Baoan International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song

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SHANGHAI, March 14 (Reuters) - Daily COVID-19 cases in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangdong province could surge to more than 75,000 if curbs are removed and travel is allowed to recover to a fifth of pre-pandemic levels, China's disease control body said.

As China's efforts to sustain its "zero-COVID" strategy come under growing scrutiny, Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, is on the frontline of a new outbreak fuelled by highly infectious variants like Omicron.

The city of Shenzhen has suspended public transport, conducted mass testing and advised residents to stay put as it tries to slow an outbreak that saw 75 new cases on Sunday.

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The continued implementation of "non-pharmaceutical interventions" (NPIs) such as mask mandates, social distancing and lockdowns will keep infections at a manageable level, a study published by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) said.

"As booster vaccination increases in 2022, incoming international travel could increase slightly, but a suppression strategy should be maintained to ensure that the resulting COVID-19 epidemic can be maintained under control," it said.

The CCDC study, published in its weekly bulletin on Friday, used models based on real-world data to show the impact of easing restrictions. The authors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The models showed if the current suppression strategy was maintained, including two-week quarantine for incoming visitors, infections could be kept low even with a 20% recovery in travel.

However, a switch to a "coexistence" strategy, with most NPIs lifted, would bring annual cases to 6.85 million and deaths to 64,626. If travel completely recovered to 2019 levels, cases would rise beyond 10 million over the year.

As well as Shenzhen, other cities across China have also taken strong measures to contain the latest outbreak, with Shanghai sealing entire districts and shutting schools. read more

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Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Jane Wardell

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