Senior Medical Advisor in China Warns of Second Wave, Says Country is 'Not Better Than the Foreign Countries'

A medical adviser to the Chinese central government has warned citizens are "still susceptible" to new infections during a second wave of COVID-19.

Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a pulmonologist who rose to prominence during a SARS epidemic in the early 2000s, made his remarks this weekend after new clusters of the novel coronavirus re-surfaced in some regions of China, including in the city of Wuhan where the infectious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus is believed to have originated last year.

Dr. Nanshan does not hold an official government position, but has emerged during the health crisis as a figurehead for China's containment efforts on state TV, relaying the confirmation in January that the disease spreads from person-to-person.

Now, speaking after Chinese officials have moved to loosen city quarantines and reopen travel routes, the veteran medical expert says the crisis is not over yet.

"The majority of Chinese [citizens] at the moment are still susceptible to the COVID-19 infections because [of] a lack of immunity. We are facing a big challenge, it's not better than the foreign countries... at the moment," he said in an interview with CNN.

On May 11, Wuhan officials had reported the first new cluster of infections in the city, roughly a month after the 76-day lockdown ended, according to Reuters. There were five new cases confirmed, with citizens tracked to the same residential area.

Last weekend, Chinese authorities announced the city of Shulan, in the Jilin Province, had been re-designated as high risk after a new cluster was tied to a woman with no known previous exposure to the virus, The Guardian reported.

As a result, state media outlet GCTN reported city authorities ordered the temporary closure of all public places and told all residents to stay home.

China has officially recorded just over 84,000 cases of novel coronavirus, but the data has been met with skepticism from government officials and health experts, who have questioned the sudden drop in infectious and a lack of transparency.

On a global scale, China is not the only nation concerned about a second wave of infections, with officials in Europe and the U.S. planning for future outbreaks.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, told The Washington Post last month a second wave of COVID-19 in the U.S. may be even worse than the first as it could coincide with the start of the flu season.

Chinese officials deny playing down the dangers of COVID-19, although some experts have suggested the real number of cases could be four times the official figure. Globally, there have been over 4.6 million cases and more than 312,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far. The U.S. has recorded at least 1,467,884 infections.

Contrary to the stance of U.S. intelligence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed to have "significant" evidence the virus came from a Wuhan laboratory. He later walked back the comment, saying it may have come from "the vicinity of the lab."

President Donald Trump previously alluded to a similar suggestion, appearing to link the pandemic to the region's Institute of Virology. Last month, U.S. intelligence said in a joint statement it agreed the virus was "not man-made or genetically modified."

Speaking to CNN, Dr. Nanshan said claims that the virus could be traced to a Chinese laboratory were unlikely, noting he believed the disease was linked to animals.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a senior medical advisor to the U.S. government, recently agreed that the evidence suggested the virus had "evolved in nature and then jumped species."

Zhong Nanshan
China's top Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) expert Zhong Nanshan during his rounds in the infectious disease ward, at the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases 10 June 2005, in Guangzhou, southern China's Guangdong province. GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty