The United States is considering taking samples of sewage taken from international planes to track any new variants of Covid-19 that develop as infections rise Chinaas UK-based health experts estimate around 9,000 people a day are now dying of the disease in China.
The sewage testing proposal from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would provide a better solution to tracking the virus and slowing its entry into the US than the new travel restrictions announced this week, three experts said. of infectious diseases.
The US and a number of other countries have said travelers from China will require mandatory negative Covid tests.
Their comments came after UK-based health data firm Airfinity said as many as 9,000 people in China were probably dying each day from Covid, nearly doubling its estimate from a week earlier.
Covid infections began spreading across China in November, picking up pace this month after Beijing dismantled its zero-Covid policies including regular PCR testing of its population and the release of data on asymptomatic cases.
Cumulative deaths in China since Dec. 1 are likely to have reached 100,000, with infections reaching 18.6 million, Airfinity said in a statement on Thursday. It used modeling based on data from Chinese provinces before recent changes to case reporting were implemented, he said.
Airfinity expects Covid infections in China to reach their first peak on January 13 with 3.7 million cases per day.
Their figures contrasted with the several thousand cases reported by Chinese health authorities per day, as a nationwide network of PCR testing sites was largely dismantled and authorities shifted from preventing infections to treating them.
The European Union’s health agency said on Thursday it believed the EU-wide introduction of mandatory Covid checks for travelers from China was currently “unwarranted”, pointing to “the higher immunity of the EU/EEA population, as well as the emergence of previous and subsequent. replacing the variants currently circulating in China”.
But in a series of tweets, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, renewed his call for China to be more forthcoming with detailed data on the country’s pandemic situation.
“In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways they believe can protect their populations,” Tedros wrote.
Airfinity expects deaths to peak on January 23 at around 25,000 a day, with cumulative deaths reaching 584,000 since December. Since December 7, when China made a sudden U-turn on its policy, authorities have officially reported only 10 deaths from Covid.
Internationally, travel restrictions such as mandatory testing have so far failed to significantly curb the spread of Covid and function mostly as optics, said Dr Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.
“They seem to be essential from a political point of view. “I think every government feels like they’re going to be accused of not doing enough to protect their citizens if they don’t do that,” he said.
The US this week also expanded its voluntary genomic sequencing program to airports, adding Seattle and Los Angeles to the program. This brings the total number of airports collecting information from positive tests to seven.
But experts said that may not provide a meaningful sample size.
A better solution would be to test sewage from airlines, which would provide a clearer picture of how the virus was changing, given China’s lack of data transparency, said Dr Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translation Institute in La Jolla. California.
Removing sewage from aircraft from China “would be a very good tactic,” Topol said, adding that it was important for the U.S. to improve its surveillance tactics “because China was not so willing to share its genomic data”.
China has said criticism of its Covid statistics is unfounded, and has played down the risk of new variants, saying it expects the mutations to be more infectious but less severe. However, doubts over official Chinese data have led many countries – including Italy and Japan, as well as the US – to impose new testing rules on Chinese visitors after Beijing lifted travel controls.
Analysis of aircraft sewage is among several options the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering to help slow the introduction of new variants into the US from other countries, said agency spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund.
“Previous surveillance of Covid-19 sewage has shown to be a valuable tool, and surveillance of sewage on airplanes could potentially be an option,” she said in an email.
French researchers reported in July that tests of aircraft sewage showed that requiring negative Covid tests before international flights did not protect countries from the spread of new variants. They found the Omicron variant in sewage from two commercial planes that flew from Ethiopia to France in December 2021 even though passengers had been required to take Covid tests before boarding.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
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