In the past six weeks, China has seen major outbreaks of COVID-19 in several cities and tourist areas across the country. On Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported 114 new symptomatic infections domestically and 512 asymptomatic infections nationwide, both numbers falling significantly compared to a few weeks ago.
Since early July, when Shanghai began easing restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there have been a number of outbreaks of the highly infectious subvariant BA.5.2 Omicron in the city and other metropolitan areas.
In mid-July, the NHC announced that the Zero-COVID strategy had entered a new phase and was gradually becoming less stringent. The most significant policy change was a reduction in the quarantine period for people arriving from high-risk areas and international arrivals from 14 days to 7 days. There have also been adjustments to the definition of medium and high risk areas to allow for faster reopening and shorter lockdowns.
NHC officials have said the looser plan is designed to keep infections as close to zero as possible while minimizing disruption to the general population and economy. The shorter isolation times have also been adapted to the characteristics of the Omicron variant, which has a shorter incubation period than previous variants.
On August 31, the General Administration of Customs lifted the requirement for visitors to report their nucleic acid test results, infection status and vaccination records. Once these new, less stringent protocols began to be enforced, it was predictable that every province in China would have some level of outbreak.
On July 6, a small number of BA.5.2 cases were detected in Xi’an, Shaanxi, leading to a seven-day “silence” period rather than a fully implemented city-wide lockdown. Crowded indoor leisure facilities have been temporarily shut down, in-person restaurants have been shuttered, summer vacations for schools have started early, and large organized gatherings have been postponed. The same strategy was repeated in the northwestern city of Lanzhou, Gansu, on July 11 after new cases were reported.
Tourist areas like the island province of Hainan have seen outbreaks that have resulted in the closure of large areas. On August 8, the province reported 1,400 locally transmitted cases since the beginning of the month. In contrast, in 2021 only two cases were reported for the whole year. Tibet also had a flare-up of COVID-19 cases in August, prompting the introduction of mass testing and the closure of the famed Potala Palace and other religious and entertainment destinations. Yiwu, Urumqi, Dunhuang and several cities in Tibet and Inner Mongolia saw infections surge in August.
In most cases, visitors had to present two negative test results, 24 hours apart, to leave the area. In some cases, there were limited bans, known as “static management”, lasting anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days.
On September 1, the metropolitan city of Chengdu, home to 21 million people, was placed in a state of complete lockdown after an outbreak was discovered. The city detected a total of 1,175 symptomatic cases and 508 asymptomatic cases between August 11 and September 6.
Chengdu’s lockdown, which ended Monday, was the biggest since Shanghai’s two-month lockdown, which began in April this year. Certain restrictions of daily life remain. Across Chengdu, residents must present negative nucleic acid test results within the past 72 hours to use public transportation or enter public places. To meet the testing needs, five separate air-filled testing facilities with a capacity of 250,000 tests per day were built in the city.
Each of the recent outbreaks has been largely suppressed by continuing the Zero-COVID elimination strategy, which includes lockdowns, rigorous contact tracing, safe isolation of infected people, mass testing and universal mask-wearing.
China’s adherence to a zero-COVID elimination strategy continues to have positive results in protecting the population. However, without a globally coordinated elimination strategy, infections and outbreaks will continue to be imported into the country to spread and threaten public health, and pressure on China to fully end Zero COVID will continue to mount.
Alongside reliance on mass testing, localized lockdowns, static management and periods of silence, there have been new developments on the treatment and vaccination fronts. On July 25, the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) approved the use of azvudine to treat COVID-19 symptoms.
Azvudin was developed in 2021 for the treatment of HIV-1 infection and was approved for use in COVID-19 patients in an accelerated process that took a total of just two weeks. It is less effective than the antiviral Paxlovid, which is also approved for the treatment of patients, but is significantly cheaper. Also, to make Paxlovid more widely available, Chinese pharmaceutical company Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical partnered with Pfizer to manufacture the antiviral in China. The non-exclusive partnership will produce the pills over the next five years.
There is also a promising new mucosal vaccine that has just been developed in China and approved for the general public. It is an inhalation treatment that is proving effective against Omicron variants. Its release was announced by manufacturer CanSino Biologics on Sunday, September 4th.
During the recent lockdowns, there has been a relative increase in public criticism of the Zero-COVID policy on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat. Discredited rumors that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime will make Zero COVID a permanent and pervasive government policy that requires regular mass testing even when there are no outbreaks have been debunked by NHC officials.
On October 16, the CCP will begin its 20th National Congress, held every five years. It remains to be seen what decisions will be made at Congress regarding Zero COVID’s continuation, but the urgency with which Azvudine was approved as a treatment and the easing of certain guidelines indicate nervousness about ongoing lockdowns and a move towards confidence resulting in new therapies and vaccines. The impact of the lockdown on business and tourism, as well as the pressure from all other capitalist governments to “live with COVID”, will become clear in the final month before Congress.
The number of cases, severe cases, hospitalizations and deaths in China, home to 1.4 billion people, is tiny compared to other parts of the world. Not a single death from COVID-19 has been reported in China since May 27, while the total number of registered deaths in the country stands at just 5,226.
For comparison, according to News Nodes, there have been over 1,056,962 official deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, while estimates of the number of deaths put the true number at over 1.2 million. The current seven-day average of daily new deaths stands at 407 and there are mounting warnings of another big spike this fall and winter. Almost 2 million people have officially died from COVID-19 across Europe. Estimates put the global deaths outside of China at about 22 million The economist.
These numbers show how effective the Zero-COVID strategy has been and make it clear that it needs to be implemented everywhere in the world. If China were to drop its mitigation measures and pursue a vaccine-and-treatment-only approach, as has been adamantly advocated by the Western media, it would likely result in the deaths of millions.
Although vaccination rates in China are relatively high compared to the United States (89.7 percent of the population in China have received two or more vaccinations, compared to 66.8 percent in the United States), the constant flare-up of cases in China proves it This A pure vaccination strategy is not enough. On the other hand, if the same rigorous measures implemented in China were practiced around the world, humanity could eliminate SARS COV-2 worldwide within a few months.