China records worst death toll in two years

This is a setback for China. The country’s health authorities recorded nearly 3,400 cases of coronavirus on Sunday, March 13, a peak since the epidemic began in February 2020.

Because of this spike in cases across the country, authorities have closed schools in Shanghai and sealed off several cities in the northeast, while nearly 19 provinces rush to contain local outbreaks because of the Delta and Omicron. The large city of Jilin, in the northeast, has been partially closed off, with hundreds of neighborhoods covered by a bell jar, an official announced. Yanji, a city of 700,000 inhabitants on the North Korean border, was completely shut down.

China, where the virus was first discovered in late 2019, has applied a zero-tolerance policy to the outbreak. It responds to epidemic outbreaks with local incarceration, mass screening and population control through tracing applications. The national borders remain virtually closed.

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Mayors removed from office

But this unprecedented number of daily cases, caused by the Omicron variant, undermines this approach. “The emergency response mechanism is not robust enough in some areas, the understanding of the characteristics of the Omicron variant is insufficient and the judgment was wrong”admitted at a press conference by the government Zhang Yan, health official of Jilin Province.

“It also reflects the rapid rise of the virus in the different regions and the lack of Medical instruments “causing delays in hospital admissions and treating patients, he added.

Residents of Jilin, who have reported more than 500 cases of the Omicron variant, had completed their six rounds of mandatory drug testing, according to local authorities. Several hundred neighborhoods in the city were closed on Saturday. Changchun, a neighboring city and industrial base of 9 million people, was put under a bell on Friday.

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The mayor of Jilin and the health official of Changchun were removed from their posts on Saturday, state media reported, a sign of the political imperative imposed on local authorities to fight epidemic outbreaks.

Restrictions that tire

China has so far managed to keep the number of coronavirus cases very low thanks to local lockdowns, massive testing and closed borders. But the fatigue of this strict approach is increasingly heard in the country. Several officials are now calling for more targeted measures, and economists are warning that the sweeping restrictions will hurt the country’s economy.

Health policies have generally been looser since the surge in cases, which began in February, than in December, when the city of Xi’an and its 13 million residents were completely shut down for two weeks.

In China’s largest city, Shanghai, authorities opted for social distancing by temporarily closing schools, businesses, restaurants and shopping centers rather than mass quarantines. There were also long queues outside hospitals in the city, with people rushing to get a negative Covid test.

Faced with mounting cases, the national health authority announced on Friday that it would introduce the use of rapid antigen testing, which could indicate some form of easing of the Communist Party’s health policy.

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Last week, a Chinese scientist said the country should try to live with the virus, as other countries have done. But the government does not rule out resorting to strict detentions. The smaller towns of Siping and Dunhua, both located in Jilin province, were thus restricted on Thursday and Friday, according to official announcements.

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The world with AFP