Millions of people were confined across China on Sunday, the country having recorded its highest rate in two years of daily cases of coronavirus, but the policy “zero covid” causes weariness of the populations and questions about its merits. Due to a spike in cases across the country, living quarters were cordoned off one by one in Shanghai, China’s most populous metropolis, along with schools, businesses, restaurants and shopping malls.
A rapid rise of the virus in the different regions
Authorities also said Sunday that people could not leave or enter the city without a negative test in the past 48 hours.
In the tech hub of the south, Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, 17 million people were placed in lockdown on Sunday after 66 new cases were reported, along with entire cities in the northeast, when almost nineteen provinces are fighting local outbreaks due to the Delta and Omicron variants.
The partially confined Chinese city of Jilin
Yanji, a city of 700,000 inhabitants on the North Korean border, has been completely confined. And the big city of Jilin, in the northeast, was partially, with hundreds of neighborhoods put under bell, announced Sunday an official.
Residents of Jilin, which has reported more than 500 cases of the Omicron variant, had completed their six rounds of mandatory drug tests on Sunday, according to local authorities.
China, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, has applied a zero-tolerance policy to the outbreak. It reacts to epidemic outbreaks with local confinements, mass screening, control of its population through tracing applications and the country’s borders remain practically closed.
But this record of daily cases, caused by the Omicron variant, undermines this approach. “The emergency response mechanism in some areas is not robust enough, the understanding of the characteristics of the Omicron variant is insufficient (…) and the judgment has been inaccurate”, admitted during a press briefing of the government Zhang Yan, health official of Jilin province.
Jilin’s mayor and Changchun’s health official were removed from their posts on Saturday, state media reported, in a sign of the political imperative imposed on local authorities to tackle outbreaks. China has so far managed to keep coronavirus cases very low thanks to the drastic measures, but fatigue with this strict approach is growing in the country.
Zero Covid policy?
Several officials are now advocating for more targeted measures, and economists are warning that sweeping measures are hurting the country’s economy. “It’s the worst (containment, editor’s note) since 2020,” a Shenzhen resident, by the name of Zhang, told AFP. “The closings are too sudden, my friend woke up in the morning to find her building had been sealed off overnight without warning. Her boss had to mail her laptop to her.”
Hong Kong, for its part, currently has one of the highest death rates in the world from the virus, with Omicron hitting its elderly population who are still reluctant to get vaccinated. Thousands of expatriates have also left the city, mainly due to the closure of schools and severe restrictions that have reduced any gathering or movement to near zero.
Faced with rising cases, China’s national health authority announced on Friday that it would introduce the use of rapid antigen tests, which could indicate a form of relaxation of the Communist Party’s health policy. Last week, a top Chinese scientist said the country should seek to live with the virus, as other countries have done. But the government has not ruled out the possibility of resorting to strict confinements.