China battles new outbreak with sweeping measures

A health worker and a policeman watch over travellers at Yantai railway station in Shandong province on Tuesday.

A health worker and a policeman watch over travellers at Yantai railway station in Shandong province on Tuesday.

The longest line at Shanghai's Disney Resort this past weekend was not for one of its popular rides but for a COVID-19 test.

More then 30,000 visitors on Sunday night had to take tests and wait for the results for several hours before being allowed to go home, after it emerged that one positive case had visited the resort.

The mass testing at Disney, and the largely orderly way it was conducted with the tens of thousands waiting patiently for their results — they all tested negative — has been framed by the media in China as underlining the country’s capacities to tackle its current COVID-19 outbreak.

With more than 400 cases reported in the past two weeks across several provinces in a country that has been following a “zero COVID” strategy, the country's authorities are deploying now familiar sweeping measures of multiple lockdowns, mass testing and quarantining tens of thousands of people in designated facilities, all part of the playbook that has broadly worked to allow China to escape a major second wave after the initial outbreak that began in Wuhan in December 2019 and January 2020.


Stringent steps

That strategy, coupled with the patience of the public, is now being tested to the limit with the current outbreak. The numbers so far reported by authorities are relatively low, but the spread across at least 16 provinces is driving the alarm, leading to more stringent than usual measures.

Beijing, the capital, is essentially being cordoned off from the rest of the country after it reported two more cases on Tuesday, taking the total to 35. The Beijing Health Commission on Monday asked residents not to leave the city and those “who have not returned to Beijing to postpone” their trips.

Part of the reason for the measures in Beijing is its hosting of a major Communist Party conclave starting November 8, which will be among the last significant meetings of the Central Committee, called a plenum, before next year's once-in-five-year congress where President Xi Jinping is expected to begin a third five-year term.

The stringent COVID-19 measures, including continuing restrictions on international travel into China even as the world opens, are likely to continue at least until next October’s congress. Authorities are also concerned about the upcoming Winter Olympics which Beijing will be hosting starting February 4.

Last week, authorities took the extraordinary measure of stopping two trains en route to the capital and placing hundreds of passengers in quarantine. The moves were triggered by crew members emerging as close contacts of a positive case.


Severe lockdown

Among the more extreme measures have been deployed in Ruili, a town in southwest Yunnan province near the Myanmar border, which has been put under repeated lockdowns because of imported cases. In recent days, residents have taken to social media to complain about the severity of the lockdown, with reports that one toddler, as part of the repeated testing, was made to undergo as many as 74 tests over the past few months.

Responding to the flood of social media posts, including by one former city official who wrote that the outbreak had dashed people's incomes and “mercilessly robbed this city and squeezed dry its last signs of life”, the local government announced new measures to improve quarantine conditions as well economic subsidies.

Health authorities have defended the stringent “zero COVID” approach.

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Printable version | Jul 1, 2022 4:08:56 pm |