This outbreak has spread much faster than previous waves of less contagious variants, with daily cases rising from a few dozen in February to more than 5,100 on Tuesday — the highest number since the early 2020 outbreak in Wuhan.
The number may seem low compared to other countries, but it is alarmingly high for a country that has tried to stem the outbreak and its chains of transmission with a strict Covid eradication policy throughout the pandemic.
As of Tuesday, cases were reported in 21 provinces and municipalities nationwide, including the national capital Beijing, and other major cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Cases may still be in the thousands, but as of Tuesday 37 million people were in lockdown.
Here’s what we know about the outbreak in China.
How did this wave start?
Cases began to rise at the beginning of the month in a few provinces across the country, including Shandong in the east, Guangdong in the south, and Jilin in the northeast.
Jilin Province, which shares a border with North Korea, has quickly become a major hotspot with a university group that sparked public outrage online after The isolated students complained of poor conditions while isolated on campus.
More than 4,000 infections reported on Tuesday were reported in Jilin. Almost half of all infections in this outbreak came from that province — and cases there have not yet peaked, officials warned on Tuesday.
Authorities and state media say it remains unclear how the first outbreaks began.
What is the variant that is spreading?
Omicron was driving the increase. One reason the cases spread so quickly and are difficult to track is because of the milder Omicron symptoms and the shorter incubation period, According to state media.
BA.2 is about 30% more transmissible than BA.1, according to early studies from the UK and Denmark. It now causes about 1 in 5 cases of Covid-19 worldwide, with cases detected in dozens of countries including the United States, according to the World Health Organization. BA.2 was detected in an outbreak in Jilin, according to state-run CCTV news outlet.
It’s not yet clear if it causes more serious illness, but some studies suggest it won’t likely lead to greater numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, in part because it appeared so soon after the original Omicron wave, so many people have antibodies Protective, either from a recent infection or booster shots.
What closures and restrictions are in place?
Five cities – a combined home to more than 37 million people – are now subject to varying levels of lockdown.
Residents of Changchun, Jilin, Shenzhen and Dongguan are prohibited from leaving their neighborhoods, except for essential workers and emergency services. Each family is only allowed to send one person to buy groceries every two to three days.
Langfang Fifth City went one step further in preventing all residents from leaving their homes except for emergency reasons.
Many of these cities suspended public transportation and indoor restaurants, closed Schools conduct multiple rounds of group tests for all residents. The city of Jilin began its ninth round of testing on Tuesday, with photos showing residents lining up outside under the ice, tight-fitting.
Jilin Province has also implemented travel restrictions, banning residents from leaving the province or traveling between cities within the province.
But these closures also pose a major logistical challenge to the government, with CCTV reporting that the county has only enough medical supplies for a few days.
Authorities are now racing to boost healthcare capacity in the hardest-hit areas — for example, building temporary treatment centers in Changchun and Jilin, and deploying thousands of soldiers to help Covid work, according to Global Times.
Will China stick to “zero covid”?
As infectious variants become increasingly prevalent – Delta, then Omicron – in 2021, many countries are abandoning their strict zero-Covid approach in favor of coexisting with the virus.
Although some Chinese leaders and scholars have hinted that China may eventually move away from strategy, that likely won’t come any time soon, if current rhetoric about bringing issues back to zero is any indication.
“It is better to be fully prepared and then gradually (scanning the transmission of Covid virus),” said Weibo’s comment. “If we speed it up, people will suffer.”
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