As China abruptly dropped some of its toughest Covid-19 restrictions -- including scrapping quarantine rules for travellers -- virologists are watching nervously to see how this may impact Covid-19 variants and their global spread, with some countries already ramping up precautionary measures, according to a media report.
The decision on Monday to drop quarantine for overseas visitors from January 8 has prompted concerns about the potential for new variants beyond China's borders, The Guardian reported.
Japan and India are among the countries that have introduced measures to prevent an influx of cases.
Australian infectious diseases physician Dominic Dwyer says a lack of transparency about Covid in China is worrying as "we don't know what variants are circulating in China at the moment... [and] whether those variants are different in terms of their response to vaccination".
The end of China's zero-Covid approach comes amid surging case numbers with low vaccination rates, especially among the elderly people, ascertaining the spread and severity of Covid is more difficult than ever as Beijing has stopped publishing daily case numbers and ended mass testing, The Guardian reported.
"They've changed very quickly from a zero Covid approach to completely relaxing things, so maybe that's happened too quickly to keep up," said Dwyer, who was one of the experts tasked with travelling to Wuhan early in 2021 to investigate the origin of the pandemic in a report for the World Health Organization (WHO), The Guardian reported.
While official statistics from China reported just three new Covid deaths for Tuesday, British health data modelling firm Airfinity estimates there are now more than one million cases and over 5,000 new infections each day.
Airfinity's head of epidemiology, Louise Blair, said China has also changed the way it records Covid-19 deaths to only include those who die from respiratory failure or neumonia after testing positive.
"This is different from other countries that record deaths within a time frame of a positive test or where Covid-19 is recorded to have attributed to the cause of death," Blair said.
Experts say the lack of data is likely masking the number and severity of cases, as physicians in China are reporting a massive infection and death surge, The Guardian reported.