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Monday, November 08, 2021
Changes in Global Strategy against COVID-19
ANBOUND

Two years have passed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world is witnessing a noticeable shift in countries' attitudes and response strategies.

At the initial stage of the pandemic, some developed countries in Europe and the United States, even certain developing countries had hoped to survive the crisis through herd immunity. However, the novel coronavirus is not an ordinary flu virus. The lax approach at the beginning has caused the virus to spread out of control, countries like the United States and Brazil have paid a heavy price for that. These two countries have the highest numbers of deaths caused by COVID-19, and this can be attributed as the direct consequence of their strategy.

Reality almost unmistakably demonstrates that, in the face of the aggressive novel coronavirus, it is neither advisable nor feasible to take lax measures. Only by developing targeted strategies for effective prevention and control will a country be able to control the pandemic, reduce the damage caused, and eventually overcome it.

At present, it is recognized that one of the effective means against the pandemic is vaccination, and another is lockdown and strict prevention and control policies. The former is preferred by European countries, where the vaccination rollout is greatly ahead of all continents. In many European countries, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, more than 70% of the population are fully vaccinated. The latter approach is the one adopted by China, which has aimed to achieve zero-case. On the basis of promoting vaccination, it continues to adopt strict quarantine and prevention measures. In the past two years, the two approaches are actually complimenting with one and another, but the focus may be different to different degrees. Both methods have played a considerable role in the world’s battle against COVID-19. However, the current development of the pandemic is also continuing to test the effectiveness of such measures and their sustainability in long-term implementation.

At present, Europe is facing another wave of the pandemic, and the issue of pandemic prevention options has become ever more pressing. According to WHO statistics, in the latest week, Europe reported nearly 1.8 million new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 24,000 new deaths, an increase of 6% and 12% respectively compared with the previous week, accounting for 59% and 48% of the world’s new confirmed cases and deaths. The number of new confirmed cases reported in the European Region has increased by more than 55% in the past 4 weeks. The WHO warned that Europe is facing a "deadly winter". If the current situation continues, between now and February 2022, another 500,000 people in Europe may die from COVID-19. The WHO stated that Europe has regained its status as the epicenter, because of the relaxation of prevention and control measures. Its experts pointed out that although vaccines are a powerful tool against the pandemic, they must be used in conjunction with other preventive measures to achieve the maximum effect. Some European countries have been all too eager to end the lockdown, relax or even lift preventive measures, and this has resulted in the recent rebound of the cases in Europe.

In China, the outbreaks have also rebounded. Since October 17, the total number of infected persons, including confirmed cases and asymptomatic infections in this wave has reached 1067, affecting more than 20 provinces and more than 40 cities of the country. The number of cases and the scope of spread have increased significantly. Based on China’s COVID-19 prevention and control experience accumulated in the past, if there are no accidents, the current wave of the pandemic will also be stabilized. However, whether China can continue to implement the “zero-case” policy is now facing more and more doubts. The relevant person in charge of the country’s National Health Commission gave a positive reply to this, and some Chinese media also responded that a scientific and accurate “zero-case” policy not only lowers the cost, but also brings a "zero-case dividend" that helps economic development. Professor Zeng Guang, a well-known epidemiology and public health expert, made it clear recently that China is still in the "zero-case dividend period”.

However, there is always a time when the "dividend period" gradually shrinks or even exhausted. The Economist Intelligence Unit has pointed out that such a policy is economically unsustainable. In particular, economies such as Hong Kong and Singapore that rely heavily on international trade, commerce and tourism will bear the greatest pressure. Mainland China's "zero-case" policy will exert less pressure because its economy is more self-sufficient, and its duration may be the longest. Yet, this is not a long-term solution. There are unknown risks that China will face once relevant policies are reinstated, while at the same time the virus has not been eradicated on a global scale and China must reopen to the outside world. Although according to the latest statistics, the number of vaccination doses administered in China has reached 2.33 billion doses, and 37.973 million people have received the booster dose, and the figure shows that China is about to reach the threshold of herd immunity. That said, even if the proportion of vaccinated people is further increased, with the country’s huge population base, coupled with a large number of susceptible and low-immune populations, completely opening the country will cause it to face major impacts, hence China cannot underestimate the possible outcomes.

In this regard, ANBOUND’s founder Chan Kung proposed earlier that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus should be shifted from vaccines to therapeutic medications. First of all, the virus will continue to mutate, and vaccines will not catch up with the mutation. Secondly, the most crucial part in dealing with COVID-19 is to reduce the mortality rate. If there are therapeutic medications, the novel coronavirus can be tackled more effectively. A comparable example is the influenza virus, which is also a viral infection, it is impossible to have a vaccine that can effectively eliminated the influenza virus. Yet, there are many medications and treatments to deal with the flu virus, which makes the fatality rate very low, so humans can co-exist with flu. The same should be true for the novel coronavirus.

As it stands, several pharmaceutical companies in the United States have made good progress in medical treatment. Pfizer announced on November 5 that it has developed a medication against COVID-19 that can reduce the hospitalization rate of people with early infections by 89%. Pfizer’s drug, called PAXLOVID (PF-07321332) has been developed since March 2020. It is specifically designed for oral administration against the novel coronavirus. It uses protease inhibitor antiviral therapy to prevent the virus from replicating to achieve therapeutic purposes. The current released data on PF-07321332 is of its Phase 2/3 clinical trials, which analyzes 1,219 unvaccinated adult subjects from North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The Phase III clinical trial started on July 16, 2021, and is expected to be completed on December 9, 2021. All studies will be completed in April 2022. The British government previously granted an emergency authorization to the new oral drug Molnupiravir developed by the U.S.’ Merck Pharmaceuticals on November 4, making it the first oral drug to combat COVID-19. Molnupiravir 's trial results announced last month showed that the risk of severe illness and death can be halved. The clinical trial results announced by Pfizer this time are significantly better than the results announced by Merck's Molnupiravir.

If the effects of the above-mentioned related medications are stable, they will have multiple impacts. First of all, humanity could finally use an effective way to deal with COVID-19 and save thousands of lives. Secondly, related pharmaceutical companies will enjoy greater success that will greatly benefit a country’s pharmaceutical industry. Thirdly, this will be a major boost to the capital market. More importantly, the entire economy and society will benefit from it. If the relevant medications can successfully transform COIVID-19 into something like common flu, the world can expect to return to normal.

As ANBOUND has previously analyzed, the key to truly solving the pandemic is therapeutic medications. The focus of current research on pandemic prevention in the United States, as well as the focus of scientific and technological development, may have already turned to this aspect.

Final analysis conclusion:

Different ways of thinking and focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic will result in the implementation of different policies and measures. This is, in fact, a new type of competition. Taking all factors into account, the global anti-pandemic competition has shifted from vaccines to medicinal treatments. In this regard, China needs to catch up.

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