China warns about lack of immunity for second wave of COVID-19

After weathering the initial outbreak of coronavirus, life in China is slowly returning to normal. However, the government's senior medical adviser is already raising alarms about the "big challenge" of a possible second wave of infections, which will remain a serious concern until a coronavirus vaccine can become widely available.

"The majority of ... Chinese at the moment are still susceptible to the COVID-19 infection, because (of) a lack of immunity," Dr. Zhong Nanshan told CNN on Saturday. "It's not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment."

In the interview, Zhong also lent some credence to accusations that Chinese authorities have under-reported their number of infections. However, he claimed that the fraud was limited to only local officials in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and said that it ended once the response to coronavirus became centralized on Jan. 23. On that date, Wuhan was placed on a then-unprecedented lockdown that lasted 76 days.

"The local authorities, they didn't like to tell the truth at that time," Zhong said. "At the very beginning they kept silent, and then I said probably we have (a larger) number of people being infected."

Despite having the largest population of any country in the world and being the first nation to combat the virus, China's total number of cases ranks 13th around the globe, leading skeptics to doubt the official tallies. Zhong, who has been with the government since before the SARS pandemic 17 years ago, blamed the surprising figures on Western governments' failure to take the virus seriously.

"I think in some of the countries in Europe, or perhaps in the U.S., (the governments) suppose this kind of disease ... is more or less like influenza, so that's wrong," he said.

Though the search for a vaccine is currently the top scientific priority in the world, Zhong did not sound optimistic that an end to the pandemic would suddenly arrive anytime soon.

"We have to test again and again and again ... by using different kinds of vaccines. It's too early to draw any conclusion which kind of vaccine is available for this kind of coronavirus ... that's why I suggest that the final approval of vaccine (will) take much longer," he said.