China: Omicron and Africa | By Dr Mehmood-ul-Hassan Khan


China: Omicron and Africa

THE latest variant of coronavirus Omicron has rattled the world, especially the Africa and the Europe continents. Panic triggered around the globe and consequently, countries across the world scrambled to impose border and travel curbs after the new omicron variant emerged.

Ironically, in China, it was business as usual. Even G7 Foreign Ministers stressed the need to have concrete and comprehensive measures to combat the new variant Omicron.

Till today, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that more than 20 countries have been infected and consequently 30 countries have closed their borders.

Most of the so-called modern countries have banned flights and travellers from South Africa and many other African countries and thus started another blame game and sort of rebirth of brutal westernized vaccine nationalism.

Most of the global health organizations have declared it most deadly and infectious virus which can produce havoc to humans around the globe, especially in South African countries.

Although the WHO has called for countries to keep calm and take rational measures in response to the new coronavirus strain, Omicron. But still momentum of panic and inability of capacity building has terrified most of the Western countries.

There has been panic among the most of the European Union countries in which the UK, Netherland, France and Belgium have so far confirmed patients of Omicron.

Even the United States of America has confirmed patients of Omicron in California. But mere news of the variant has once again plunged the US into a panic mode. Consequently, it crashed its stocks exchanges, commodity and oil markets.

Ultimately, US President, Joe Biden, sought to reassure markets saying the new variant was a cause for concern but not a cause for panic.
Unfortunately, Omicron has multiplier socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic consequences.

The emergence of the highly mutated form of the virus has once again revalidated the Chinese COVID Zero Strategy.

Right from the beginning, China has prioritized weeding out every last infection, upholding that the health of the population is its main priority and economic benefits will follow.

In this time of anxiety, global uncertainty and western manufactured black & white division due to which African countries are now contending with the devastating fallout of the newly discovered variant Omicron.

In this regard, the People’s Republic of China stood first and disseminated the message of hope among the most marginalized countries, communities and people of Africa.

While delivering a keynote speech via video at the eighth triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in the Senegalese city of Diamniadio, the Chinese President, Xi Jiping, pledged to supply another one billion doses of vaccines to African countries, as the world’s poorest continent struggles with the emergence of a new and potentially more transmissible Covid-19 variant.

In this connection the Chinese President Xi shared that 600 million doses will be donated while the rest will be jointly manufactured by Chinese enterprises and African countries.

He stressed the need to put people and their life first, be guided by science, support waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, and truly ensure the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in Africa to bridge the immunization gap.

On its part, China has already sold 136 million vaccine doses to Africa and pledged 19 million in donation. Beijing has delivered 107 million of those doses and another 11.6 million through the Covax initiative.

In addition to this, Chinese President Xi assured financial support of $10 billion to African financial institutions, a $10 billion credit line and encouraging its firms to invest at least $10 billion in the continent in the next three years.

It will also provide $10 billion in trade financing to support African exports to China rising to $300 billion over three years.

Furthermore, Xi’s speech focused on the most immediate concern for the continent, namely the shortage of vaccines to combat the pandemic, especially in the light of the new variant.

Since 2006, China had doubled its investment pledge to Africa every three years at the FOCAC summit, Beijing’s main vehicle for managing its relationship with the continent. All the African countries considered their relations with China time tested.

Beijing has emerged in the past decade as the world’s largest non-commercial international creditor, with its state-owned policy banks lending more to developing countries than the IMF and World Bank.

Despite western propaganda, its lending has been subject to international scrutiny which has intensified as the pandemic caused dozens of countries to suspend debt repayments.

On the contrary, Africa has always been near the bottom of the U.S. foreign-relations priority list, with the world’s poorest continent accounting for less than two percent of its total two-way trade.

Relations reached low ebb during President Donald Trump’s tenure, during which he made disparaging remarks about African countries and high-level diplomatic engagements were few and far between.

Even Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, assured African countries his country unconditional support in the time of crises.

In this context, Chinese Foreign Ministry is confident that next February’s Winter Olympics will go ahead smoothly and successfully despite the growing challenges posed by the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Relying on snap lockdowns and a rapid vaccination rollout, China has largely managed to control its COVID-19 situation, with official figures placing the country’s total cases since December 2019 at 98,672, including 4,636 deaths.

As Beijing gears up to host the 2022 Winter Olympics from February 4 to 20, the world is bracing for a new wave of the pandemic after the emergence of the Omicron strain which, the WHO has said, carries a very high risk of infection.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry clarified that although “Omicron will bring challenges to the COVID-19 prevention work at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, yet China has experience in dealing with the coronavirus and is confident that the event will proceed smoothly and successfully.

Xu Wenbo, an official from China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country’s existing COVID-19 response strategy “should be sufficient for tackling the new Omicron variant.

He assured that Chinese vaccines remain effective against the new mutated variant, but to better cope with this new variant, China has made technological reserve preparations in vaccine development.”

Data from the National Health Commission shows more than 1.1 billion people in China have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with over 2.49 billion doses administered in the country to date.

On its part, Pakistan government has already taken all possible preventive measures against the emergence of Omicron further underlined the importance of nationwide vigorous vaccination drive and adherence to basic preventative measures of wearing masks and maintaining social distance to fight against Omicron that the WHO named a “variant of concern.”

—The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics, Regional geopolitical expert of China, CPEC & BRI.

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