Worst Covid outbreak in China confines 17 million, tests zero-tolerance policy


As part of the planet lifts restrictions to contain Covid-19 after devastating outbreaks that killed more than 6 million people, China has tightened its grip on the coronavirus as it grapples with the worst wave of the disease in two years.

Only this Sunday (13) were officially registered 3,939 new cases of infection by the disease. The number would be considered a success in any country in the West, but it raises alarms in China, which since the beginning of the pandemic has adopted the Covid zero policy, according to which no level of contamination is acceptable.

The fear is that, without control, a situation similar to that of South Korea will happen, also considered a successful example of containing the disease, but which has seen the number of contaminations soar and reach a daily average of more than 300,000 cases – very above that registered in Brazil, for example.

With the advancement of the omicron variant, however, outbreaks have been recorded in different parts of China, and the isolation of some of the main financial centers of the world’s second largest economy, such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, has raised doubts about the sustainability of the tolerance policy. zero

“I would like to be wrong, but I think the omicron is stronger than the zero Covid policy,” says Rodrigo Zeidan, an economics professor at New York University in Shanghai. The city, of 25 million people, has not yet entered a complete lockdown, but some neighborhoods have been isolated, as well as schools and cultural facilities.

Zeidan points out that the Covid zero policy has the support of the population, but that the lockdown generates anxiety and concern. And it gives an example of the country’s level of control over the disease. “The wife of a fellow professor at NYU just went to a quarantine hotel because she took a cab after an infected person had ridden in the car. So she needed to isolate herself,” she says.

The fear in Shanghai is that the same thing will happen that happened in Shenzhen, an economic center and technological hub in the south of the country, with 17 million inhabitants, which after days of confining specific neighborhoods finally went into complete lockdown this Sunday, after identifying 66 symptomatic cases. .

To get an idea of ​​the importance of the city, Shenzhen is home to some of the largest companies in the country, such as Huawei, an electronics company, the car manufacturer BYD and Tencent, one of the world’s leading internet companies. .

There is uncertainty about how long the lockdown will last. The isolation of Xian, in the central region of the country, with 13 million inhabitants, lasted a month, between December and January.

Within China, there are already researchers who advocate a policy of coexistence with the virus. Earlier this month, Zeng Guang, a former chief scientist at China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of those responsible for the initial responses to the virus, said that China’s strategy “cannot remain unchanged forever” and that “it is the long-term goal of humanity to coexist with the virus”.

On Weibo, the popular Chinese social network, he argued that the country’s success in controlling the virus could become its weak point, as the population’s natural immunization rate is lower. “In the near future, at the right time, the roadmap for Chinese-style coexistence with the virus should be presented.”

Shenzhen imported cases from Hong Kong, a city with which it borders and where the number of infections has skyrocketed, with a daily average of more than 40,000 cases at the beginning of the month – as it is a special administrative region, the numbers do not enter the official count of cases. cases from China.

On Friday (11), authorities had already decided to isolate Changchun, with 9 million inhabitants, capital of Jilin province, which borders North Korea and Russia, in the Vladivostok region. Residents will have to stay in their homes, and only one person per household will be able to go out once every two days, informed the prefecture, which plans to subject the entire population to Covid detection tests. Schools and shops have been closed, transport has been disrupted and no one is allowed to leave the city.

In the same province, Yanji, with 700,000 inhabitants, was also confined. In the city of Jilin, neighborhoods were also isolated after 500 cases were confirmed, and residents underwent six rounds of mass testing.

The lack of control of cases, however, has been firmly answered by the Chinese Communist Party and, on Saturday (12), overthrew the mayor of Jilin and the head of health of the neighboring city of Changchun.

“Emergency response mechanisms in some areas are not robust enough, there is not enough understanding of the characteristics of the omicron variant and there have been misguided decisions,” said Zhang Yan, a health official in Jilin.

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