Too early for China to seek 'coexistence' with COVID - govt expert

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Residents line up for nucleic acid testing at a residential compound following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 22, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS

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SHANGHAI, March 3 (Reuters) - It is still too early for China to consider easing its stringent coronavirus restrictions, with the highly infectious Omicron strain still capable of causing large numbers of deaths, said Liang Wannian, head of an expert group on COVID-19 prevention.

Describing China's so-called 'dynamic clearance' strategy as a "magic weapon", Liang said in an interview with China's state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday that "coexisting" with the virus was still not an option. He said Omicron was still significantly more deadly than influenza and capable of putting great strain on the country's medical resources.

"In these circumstances, if we relax just a little, it is very probable that the likelihood of a single individual getting severe symptoms or dying will be low, but multiplied by 1.4 billion, it will be a massive number," he said.

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Chinese medical experts have been discussing openly the effectiveness and economic impact of its 'dynamic clearance' policies, which aim to shut off transmission routes as soon as new cases are detected.

While foreign analysts suggest the 'zero-COVID' approach could undermine economic growth this year, experts in China say that while lockdowns disrupt individual communities or cities, they also allow the rest of the economy to continue without the risk of further outbreaks.

In comments published on the Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday, Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said 'dynamic clearance' policies would not be in place forever.

China would look for a "flexible and controllable opening-up", he said, though the current risks remained considerable.

"Not far into the future, at an appropriate point in time, a Chinese-style roadmap for coexisting with the virus will present itself," he said.

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Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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