China Continues to Fight the Worst Outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic

China’s national health official said Friday the country is continuing to battle the worst outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 56,000 new cases since March 1.

Officials at a press briefing in Beijing said more than half of the cases were in the northeastern province of Jilin and included asymptomatic cases.

At the same briefing in Beijing, infectious disease expert from the Chinese Center for Disease Control, Wu Zunyou, said officials considered the so-called “zero-COVID” strategy to still be “the most economical and most effective prevention strategy against COVID-19.”

The strategy relies on lockdowns and mass testing, in which close contacts are often quarantined at home or in central government facilities. Health officials say they are launching rapid antigen testing to complement the current mass testing strategy. The strategy was implemented in China’s largest city, Shanghai, which this week recorded the highest number of cases in a spike in the highly contagious variant of the omicron.

Meanwhile, South Korea, a nearby country, is also facing the worst outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 9 million cases reported since early February. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), Friday reported 339,514 new cases, down from 395,597 on Thursday and 490,881 on Wednesday, the pandemic’s second-highest daily caseload.

The country hit an all-time high of daily cases the previous Thursday, with 621,205 cases. Officials said the new infections on Friday brought South Korea’s total cases to 11,162,232, for the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Thursday announced it is recommending an antibody drug developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to be allowed to be used to prevent COVID-19 in adults and adolescents 12 years of age and older.

In a statement, the EMA recommended the new drug, marketed as Evusheld, to be given to people before they were exposed to COVID-19, to prevent future infections. The agency cited data from a study showing the drug was 77 percent effective at preventing infection, though they said it may be less effective against the omicron variant.

The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, will consider the drug for approval. The US Food and Drug Administration in December authorized the use of Evusheld for people with serious health problems or allergies, who cannot get adequate protection from vaccination. The UK, authorized its use last week. [my/pp]