This outbreak has spread much faster than previous waves of less contagious variants, with daily cases going 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 alarming for a country that has tried to stamp out the epidemic and its chains of transmission through 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.
There may still be thousands of cases, but as of Tuesday, 37 million people were in solitary confinement.
Here’s what we know about the outbreak in China.
How did this wave start?
Cases began rising earlier this month in some provinces of 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 on the internet after The isolated students complained of poor conditions while isolated on campus.
More than 4,000 infections were reported on Tuesday in Jilin. Nearly half of all infections in this outbreak came from that province — Officials warned on Tuesday that cases had not yet peaked.
Authorities and state media say it is unclear how the outbreak began.
What is the variant that is spreading?
Omicron was leading 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 government 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 CCTV news.
It’s still not clear if it causes more serious illness, but some studies suggest it likely won’t lead to more hospitalizations and deaths, in part because it appeared so soon after the original Omicron wave, as many people have had Protective antibodies, from a recent infection or from a booster shot.
What closures and restrictions are in place?
Five cities – the combined home of more than 37 million people – are now subject to various 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 can only send one person to do the shopping every two or three days.
Langfang Fifth City took a step forward in preventing all residents from leaving their homes except for emergency reasons.
Many of these cities have suspended public transportation and indoor restaurants, lock Schools conduct multiple rounds of group tests for all residents. Jilin city began its ninth round of testing on Tuesday, with photos showing residents queuing outside under the ice.
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 only has enough medical supplies for a few days.
Authorities are now competing to increase health capacity in the hardest-hit areas, for example, by building temporary care centers in Changchun and Jilin and deploying thousands of soldiers to aid Covid, according to the Global Times.
Will China stick to “Zero Covid”?
As infectious variants become more prevalent – delta, then omicron – in 2021, many countries have abandoned their strict no-Covid approach in favor of living 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’s best to be fully prepared and then (check for Covid transmission) gradually,” said Weibo’s comment. “If we accelerate, people will suffer.”
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