/China Battles Largest COVID Outbreak Since Wuhan in 2020

China Battles Largest COVID Outbreak Since Wuhan in 2020

Over 50 million people are under some form of lockdown across China as the country struggles with its single biggest coronavirus outbreak since Wuhan in 2020. All of Jilin Province has been put under lockdown, as have the cities of Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Langfang; certain sections of Shanghai and Xi’an are under partial lockdown, as well. Since the beginning of March, over 10,000 new coronavirus cases have been reported in 28 of China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and regions. The central government remains committed to a “dynamic zero-COVID” policy that necessitates the use of costly, but so-far effective, lockdowns. At The Washington Post, Lily Kuo reported on

Patients with mild symptoms no longer need to be hospitalized but are instead being sent to centralized quarantine centers, officials said Tuesday. Officials in Shanghai, where schools have been shut, said they were not planning to institute a citywide lockdown.

[…] But many provinces and cities are still implementing controls as strictly as before. Almost 36 million people in towns and cities from Hebei province to Shenzhen have been restricted to their homes or housing compounds. Key industrial hubs such as Dongguan, Changchun, Jilin city and Shenzhen have placed their residents under “closed management,” forcing businesses and factories to suspend operations.

[…] Despite signs of wavering, China has officially promised to continue its zero covid policy. Lei Zhenglong, deputy head of the National Health Commission’s Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control, said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency published Wednesday that experts have judged the current zero covid policy to be effective against the omicron variant, even though the BA.2 version was spreading faster and undetected. He said the nature of the current outbreak requires “our prevention and control measures to be earlier, faster, stricter and more effective.” []

The largest and most severe outbreak is in Jilin, a province in northeastern China that shares a border with North Korea. An official in the province said residents and officials “urgently mobilize and act to overcome difficulties with clenched teeth — we are racing against time.” from a student at Jilin Agricultural Science and Technology University revealed that students lacked sufficient toiletries and had been forced to quarantine in the library, where they were sleeping on tables. Later reports indicate that approximately 300 buses were sent to evacuate over 6,5000 people from the campus, and that the university’s Communist Party Committee secretary was sacked. Sun Chunlan, the Politburo’s top COVID-policy enforcer, traveled to the province and ordered that the “” measures be taken against the virus. Sun previously played a role in curbing COVID outbreaks in Wuhan, Xinjiang, Zhengzhou, and Xi’an, among other areas. (Despite her pivotal role in China’s COVID fight, Bloomberg that Sun was passed over for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee due to her gender, .) At Reuters, David Stanway, Roxanne Liu and Albee Zhang reported on

Authorities have called for blanket testing in Jilin, with provincial Communist Party secretary Jing Junhai urging health departments to ensure “not a single person is missed”, the official Jilin Daily newspaper reported.

[…] Though Jilin’s infections had halved compared to a day earlier, China’s daily number of new local symptomatic cases was still over 1,000 for a fourth consecutive day, and Jing described the efforts to stamp out China’s worst regional outbreak in two years as having entered “a critical stage of the last-ditch battle”.

[…] Jilin province, which has banned its 24 million residents from leaving without notifying local police, has added eight temporary hospitals with over 10,000 beds in total and two temporary quarantine facilities, and is preparing to add five more quarantine sites with over 27,000 rooms, state television reported on Wednesday. []

Although China has not yet reported any deaths from the virus during the recent surge, there may have been deaths due to medical neglect or delayed treatment, just as there were earlier this year in Xi’an, . A four-year-old girl in Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin, after she was unable to receive treatment in a timely manner. The recent Omicron outbreak is particularly concerning because of China’s over-80 population remains unvaccinated. The low vaccination rates among the elderly are at least : Chinese policy-makers focused on vaccinating cold-chain workers, border and port inspection officers, and others handling imported goods or interacting with foreigners over inoculating the elderly. In many provinces, the elderly were only offered access to vaccines alongside the rest of the general population. Omicron has exposed the downsides to that strategy: 65 percent of China’s severe COVID cases occur , and 65 percent of severely ill seniors are unvaccinated. 

The affected provinces and municipalities have introduced lockdowns of differing levels of severity. Shenzhen has instituted and will involve three rounds of city-wide testing. Shanghai has , likely affecting over 100,000 students. One student told Sixth Tone, “​​We did not have enough mental preparation, as well as enough time to stock up resources.” Shanghai and Shenzhen requisitioned apartments and dorm buildings, respectively, to serve as quarantine centers. In both cases, residents and students were given little-to-no notice. Shanghai initially —although after a backlash, it later extended the deadline to a full 24 hours. In Shenzhen, without notifying students beforehand. Commuters, too, have found themselves in Kafkaesque situations: one woman and her friends were stranded on a bridge linking Beijing with the nearby city of Yanjiao, in Hebei Province, after both cities instituted entry bans while they were in transit. In , the woman wrote, “If it weren’t happening to me, it would be hard to believe such a thing could occur.” It is unclear if the post was censored by Weibo or removed by the author herself. 

Chinese citizens’ reactions to the lockdowns are by now so familiar as to inspire searing parody. One anonymous netizen described the typical sequence : “(1) Curse the local government; (2) Doxx and heap online abuse on the first local COVID patient; (3) Shift focus to the real story: America & Europe are strewn with corpses; (4) My city’s sick—stay strong, XX! [where XX represents either the city’s name or ]; (5) We’re out of lockdown, be grateful to the motherland; (6) Our system is superior, we’ve triumphed again.” Similar dynamics are at play again. Shenzhen residents have taken particular offense at as “slow living in Shenzhen,” i.e. a leisurely respite from the breakneck pace that defines Shenzhen’s work culture (once ) Others have reluctance (or ) to impose a mainland-style lockdown, blaming it for Shenzhen’s own struggles. 

The lockdowns have put an extra burden on China’s working poor. In January, by contact tracing records of two coronavirus patients in Beijing that revealed the gulf separating the capital’s “haves” from its “have-nots.” Now, Shenzhen’s “entry, no exit” lockdown policy has left the city’s food delivery drivers stranded with an unenviable choice: remain in the city for work, without a place to rest, or head home to their rented rooms on the outskirts of town, with no clear timeline for a return to work. .