Omicron BA.5.2 variant detected in four cities; Beijing reemphasizes vaccination; heightened vigilance across China

After 18 cases of Omicron BA.5.2 were detected at the the Zhaohui Renewable Resources Trading Market in Xian, some ares were put in lockdown and rounds of massive testing were ordered. All on-site dining and entertainment venues were closed for a week. The Omicron BA.5.2 variant has also been reported in Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. Gao Fu, Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, called for the development of updated booster vaccines, as China's inactivated vaccines are less efficient against the new variants. Sinopharm announced that an Omicron-specific inactivated vaccine developed by an institute under its subsidiary China National Biotec Group (CNBG) had been approved for clinical trials.

PCR tests were likewise conducted in Shanghai after people linked to a commercial complex in Putuo district – were two cases were reported – had been moving across the city. Shanghai again designated certain areas a being high- or medium-risk for Covid-19 after detecting new infections linked to a KTV and a teahouse. Jin Lei, Deputy Director of Shanghai Culture and Tourism Bureau, noted that it is still too risky to allow entertainment venues where people gather in enclosed spaces to reopen. Since July 1, 25 art galleries, 29 museums and 84 A-level scenic spots in the city have reopened to the public. Authorities have also approved the gradual reopening of performance venues and cinemas starting on July 8.

The latest Beijing flare-up of 12 new cases detected on July 6 is believed to be a cluster infection caused by imported Omicron subvariant BA.5.2. Beijing authorities announced that people without contraindications will need to be vaccinated before being allowed to enter crowded places such as libraries, cinemas, gyms and entertainment venues. The measure enters into force on July 11. However only vaccinations with Chinese vaccines could be registered in the Health Kit app, causing concern among those vaccinated with foreign shots. But later a Beijing official said people with a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours could still enter those public places. Beijing city had fully inoculated 97.7% of its adult residents as of last September. Still, the city is especially urging the elderly to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have taken heightened precautions against Covid-19 risks brought by imports and inbound travelers amid a global resurgence caused by two highly transmissible Omicron subvariants.

Sinovac has kicked off a clinical trial in Hong Kong to assess the safety and immunogenicity of its Omicron-specific Covid-19 inactivated vaccine, which is intended to be used as a booster shot. A total of 300 healthy adult volunteers aged 18 and above who have been vaccinated with two or three doses of an inactivated or mRNA vaccine will be involved in the study. More than 80,000 people in Shanghai already took booster shots with different vaccines, a method called sequential immunization. People fully vaccinated with one of the three inactivated vaccines produced by Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech are given the protein subunit vaccine made by Anhui Zhifei Longcom or a viral vector vaccine from CanSino Biologics.

While most companies suffer from the effects of Covid-19, a few benefit from it. Sansure Biotech, a Changsha, Hunan province-based in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) product producer specializing in molecular diagnostics and genetic testing, is enjoying surging demand for Covid-19 test kits. A nucleic acid test kit for detecting hepatitis B & C and HIV developed by Sanway Gene, its wholly owned subsidiary, has also received the CE certification. On a global scale, the IVD market is predicted to exceed USD130 billion by 2030, and China is likely to become the world’s largest IVD market by 2030, according to a report by Xiangcai Securities, adding that foreign enterprises still dominate the middle-to-high-end of the IVD market in China.

A shipment of the new drug Evushield to prevent Covid-19 infections in people who have compromised immune systems has arrived at the Boao International Medical Tourism Pilot Zone in Hainan province, the country’s only dedicated area that enjoys special preferential policies to import medical devices, technologies and drugs. Boao Airport Customs completed entry approval for AstraZeneca's Evusheld injections with a total value of nearly CNY22 million. The drug has been approved by the European Union for medical application among adults and adolescents who are 12 years and older and weigh at least 40 kilograms, and has been authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.

A commentary in the China Daily criticized job recruitment agencies and employers for discriminating against job seekers who had recovered from a Covid-19 infection and volunteers who worked at temporary quarantine facilities. Some agencies said such people could not apply for jobs but the China Daily said such practices were outrageous and illegal, as discrimination based on gender, age, social and health status is strictly prohibited in China’s Labor Law.

This overview is based on reports by the China Daily, Shanghai Daily, Global Times and South China Morning Post.