Above Photo: xinhua; li jianan
Gears Up For Same In Shenzhen, Tianjin
The global outbreak triggered late last year by the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 has affected China, too, where health officials and public administrators have worked tirelessly to keep the country’s vaunted “zero Covid” policy in place and control the outbreak along with still-existing Delta variant cases.
On Friday, Chinese health authorities began testing every single resident of Zhengzhou, the capital of China’s central Henan Province, after a handful of COVID-19 cases were detected in the massive city of 12.5 million. Just six hours later, they were finished, achieving a rate of 2.1 million people tested per hour, or 583 residents per second, according to the Global Times.
For comparison, that is equal to New York City and Chicago combined. On Sunday, health officials set about trying to do it again with the even larger city of Tianjin, home to 14 million people.
China’s National Health Commission reported a total of 157 new cases in all of mainland China on Sunday, 97 of which were domestically transmitted. Of those 97, 60 were in Henan, including 24 in Zhengzhou, and 21 cases in Tianjin, a port city southeast of Beijing. The city also said over the weekend that it had detected two cases of Omicron.
According to the Global Times, officials in Henan implemented lessons learned from Xi’an, the city of 13 million in Shaanxi that has been under sustained lockdown for several weeks and where more than 1,700 cases have been detected. In the year 2021, just two deaths were recorded in China as caused by COVID-19.
By comparison, the US has seen more than 60 million cases of COVID-19 in total, and more than 835,000 deaths. On Sunday, the country’s seven-day daily new case average stood at 674,000 cases, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Biden administration has explicitly sworn off another lockdown to stem the spread of Covid cases. The CDC has forecast nearly 85,000 additional COVID-19 deaths by the end of the month.
Zhang Boli, a Covid-19 specialist and president of the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, told the South China Morning Post that an asymptomatic “superspreader” had evaded detection for several days thanks to negligence by local authorities, who have since been punished.
China’s urgency is in part due to its longstanding policy of “zero Covid,” which has kept the number of cases in the country to about 120,000 since the start of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019 and deaths to less than 4,700. However, the capital of Beijing is preparing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in early February, and a major Covid outbreak could ruin the event, as it nearly did the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year.
Parallel to its Zero Covid policy, China has implemented one of the world’s most effective vaccination programs, achieving a vaccination rate of 86% as of Sunday, according to NHC data. That amounts to 1.21 billion people out of China’s 1.4 billion population.
“Under the overarching goal of preventing imported infections and domestic flare-ups, this policy means that when a new local outbreak occurs, measures will be taken to promptly stem the spread of the virus and clear new infections,” Liang Wannian, head of the National Health Commission’s COVID-19 leading task force, told China Daily on Sunday.
“This approach is the best option and the guiding principle of China’s disease control work. We must resolutely adhere to the policy and protect the health and safety of the population as the top priority,” he added.
The SCMP reported on Monday that health officials had also detected a cluster of COVID-19 infections in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong that is adjacent to Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region. The infections are believed to have arrived in the port city in contaminated goods from overseas. In addition, four locally spread cases of the Delta variant were detected in the city over the weekend.
According to the Hong Kong-based paper, Shenzhen officials started testing all 12.5 million residents of Shenzhen on Saturday, and bus stations and ferry terminals have closed to prevent further spread of the disease. People wishing to leave the city must show a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 48 hours of their departure. Similar tactics have been deployed across China, including along its 23,500 miles of high-speed rail lines connecting all the country’s major cities.