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Millions of people were locked up across China on Sunday as the country registered its highest rate of daily coronavirus cases in two years, as public fears about the continuation of the government’s zero-covid policy escalated.
Chinese health authorities identified nearly 3,400 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, March 13, a record number since the epidemic started in February 2020, and hastened to stop the outbreaks by limiting the affected areas.
Due to this spike in cases across the country, authorities have closed schools in Shanghai, central districts in Shenzhen’s southern tech center, as well as entire cities in the northeast, as nearly 19 provinces battle…local focal points because of Delta and Omicron variants.
The large city of Jilin, in the northeast, is partially closed, with hundreds of neighborhoods under glass, an official announced on Sunday. Yanji, a city of 700,000 inhabitants on the North Korean border, has been completely shut down.
Undermined a strict policy
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. National borders remain virtually closed.
But this record 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 inaccurate,” said Zhang Yan, Jilin Province health official, at a news conference. .
“It also reflects the rapid emergence (…) of the virus in the different regions and the lack of (…) medical resources,” delaying hospital admissions and treatment of patients, he said.
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.
The mayor of Jilin and the health official of Changchun were removed from their posts on Saturday, state media reported, as a sign of the political imperative imposed on local authorities to deal with outbreaks. China has so far managed to keep the number of coronavirus cases very low thanks to local lockdowns, massive tests and border closures.
But the fatigue of this strict approach is increasingly heard in China. Several officials are now calling for softer, targeted measures to contain the spread of the virus, and economists are warning that drastic measures will hurt the country’s economy.
In Shenzhen, a city of about 13 million people bordering Hong Kong, residents have expressed fear over the increase in cases and the drastic response from health authorities, who have put the Futian district on lockdown (population 300,000).
Hong Kong especially affected
Hong Kong currently has one of the highest death rates from the virus in the world, with Omicron affecting the elderly population who are still reluctant to get vaccinated. Thousands of expatriates have also left the city, mainly due to school closures and severe restrictions that have reduced any gathering or movement to almost zero.
But China’s health policy has generally been more focused 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 chose to rely on social distancing by temporarily closing schools, businesses, restaurants and shopping centers rather than mass quarantines.
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.