China risks a "tsunami” of coronavirus infections resulting in 1.6 million deaths if the government abandons its long-held "COVID zero" policy and allows the highly-infectious omicron variant to spread unchecked, according to researchers at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, found that the level of immunity induced by China’s March vaccination campaign would be "insufficient” to prevent an omicron wave that would swamp intensive care capacity, given low vaccine rates among the elderly and the virus’s ability to evade immunity from existing shots.

The findings add heft to the government’s continued insistence on sticking with the zero tolerance approach to COVID-19 that has largely kept the virus at bay for most of the pandemic. Without restrictions such as the country’s mass-testing drives and strict lockdowns, the spread of omicron could lead to 112.2 million symptomatic cases, 5.1 million hospital admissions and 1.6 million deaths, with the major wave occurring between May and July, the study concluded.