Beijing, December 20: Between 1.3 and 2.1 million lives could be at risk if China lifts its zero-COVID policy given low vaccination and booster rates as well as a lack of hybrid immunity, according to London-based global health intelligence and analytics firm.

"Mainland China has very low levels of immunity across its population. Its citizens were vaccinated with domestically produced jabs Sinovac and Sinopharm which have been proven to have significantly lower efficacy and provide less protection against infection and death," according to analysis by Airfinity. COVID-19 Horror in China: Dead Bodies Pile On Top of Each Other in Hospital Morgues As Coronavirus Wave Strikes Beijing.

The global health intelligence company had said China's zero-COVID strategy also means the population has almost no naturally acquired immunity through the previous infection. China: COVID-19 Linked Deaths Seen in Beijing After Virus Rules Eased.

"As a result of these factors, our analysis shows if mainland China sees a similar wave to Hong Kong's in February, its healthcare system could be pushed to capacity as there could be between 167 and 279 million cases nationwide, which could lead to between 1.3 and 2.1 million deaths," it added.

Airfinity's Head of Vaccines and Epidemiology Dr Louise Blair said it is essential for China to ramp up vaccinations to raise immunity in order to lift its zero-COVID policy, especially given how large its elderly population is. "Subsequently, China would need hybrid immunity to allow for the country to brace future waves with minimal impact."

"This has proven effective in other countries and regions; for example, while Hong Kong efforts to vaccinate the vulnerable prior to opening likely only dampened the impact of its first wave, its protection has been enhanced by hybrid immunity from mass infection leading to much less impactful and deadly COVID-19 waves," he added.

On Monday, Chinese health authorities announced two coronavirus deaths, both in Beijing, which is witnessing its worst outbreak since the start of the COVID pandemic.

These were the first officially reported deaths since the dramatic easing of restrictions on December 7, CNN reported. This comes as Chinese social media posts have pointed to a surge in demand at Beijing's funeral homes and crematoriums.

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