As of Tuesday, at least 28 provinces and regions in the country have reported new cases of the coronavirus, most of them from the BA.2 version of the omicron variant. More than half of the new cases were in the northeastern province of Jilin, where officials said they had enough medical supplies for only two or three days.
China is particularly vulnerable to the rapidly spreading omicron. Although more than 85% of the population has been vaccinated, Chinese vaccines have not been shown to be effective against the variant, compared to mRNA vaccines – such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – used elsewhere, which are still in production and not yet available in the country.
The elderly population in China is particularly at risk. More than 50 million people in the country over the age of 60 have not been fully vaccinated, according to a National Health Commission briefing on Tuesday, raising fears that if the outbreak is not brought under control, China could suffer the same fate as neighboring Hong Kong. Where more than 4,500 have died – the vast majority of older adults who have not been fully vaccinated.
Lockdown measures in major manufacturing and port hubs such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Dongguan also threaten to damage global supply chains and China’s economic recovery after top officials pledged to expand growth to around 5.5 percent this year.
On Tuesday, the country’s economic czar Liu He warned that in the “complex situation”, epidemic measures must be balanced with economic and social development in order to “keep the economy operating within a reasonable range” and maintain stable capital markets – a possible indication of how Previously used strict lockdown measures could affect the economy.
A report from Bank of America Securities said the outbreak could hit global supply chains for Android smartphones and affect production of chips, apparel and cars in the near term, According to CNBC. Although most Chinese ports remain open, shipping analysts have documented congestion with Dozens of containers They are waiting outside ports in Qingdao and Shenzhen, according to Reuters.
The outbreak coincided with a sell-off in Chinese stocks this week, followed by a rebound on Wednesday after Liu pledged to support industries under pressure.
Ordinary citizens’ complaints have appeared more regularly on the country’s heavily censored social media platforms. On Monday, one user wrote on the Weibo microblog that due to the sudden new lockdown measures, so was his family Trapped on a highway for 14 hours It is trying to reach the town of Wuxi in eastern China.
News that a 4-year-old girl in Changchun, one of the cities under a strict lockdown, died of acute laryngitis while waiting for a negative coronavirus test to go to hospital has sparked more outrage online.
“Three years. I don’t dare get sick, I don’t even talk about having children. You don’t know what they might face,” wrote one netizen under a hashtag of the problem that was viewed more than 40 million times in two hours.
Others complained of losses in their business. “I really broke down tonight and never wanted to leave Shenzhen as much as I do tonight. Since I opened my shop on March 1, I haven’t received a penny,” a shop owner wrote for breakfast in response to a posting by the Shenzhen Health Commission.
As lockdowns strain the economy and test the patience of residents, there are signs that officials may be gradually moving away from a policy of “dynamic no virus spread” to try to stamp out the virus through strict lockdowns, aggressive contact tracing, and maintaining strict border controls.
Officials said Tuesday that patients with mild symptoms no longer need to be hospitalized, but are instead being sent to central quarantine centers. Officials in Shanghai, where schools have been closed, said they do not plan to impose a citywide shutdown.
Apple supplier Foxconn, which halted operations on Monday in Shenzhen, said on Wednesday it had implemented a “closed-loop” system and resumed some production. Shenzhen’s Yantian Port said on Monday that it is still operate normally.
But many counties and cities still enforce controls as scrupulously as before. Nearly 36 million people in towns and cities from Hebei Province to Shenzhen have been confined to their homes or apartment complexes. Major industrial hubs such as Dongguan, Changchun, Jilin and Shenzhen have put their residents under “closed management”, forcing businesses and factories to suspend operations.
Many regions have implemented less stringent restrictions on movement between provinces. Flights to Shanghai will be diverted to other cities from March 21 to May 1. All those entering Beijing must undergo a nucleic acid test (PCR) 72 hours after arrival, as well as a negative coronavirus test within the past 48 hours.
In Tianjin, as in many cities, residents have been ordered not to leave on non-essential trips. In Shanghai, those who have to leave the city, as well as those entering the city, must show a negative DNA test taken within the past 48 hours.
Despite signs of fluctuation, China has solemnly promised to continue the policy of non-proliferation of coronavirus. Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with Xinhua published on Wednesday that experts considered the current zero-Covid policy to be effective against the omicron variant, although the BA.2 version was effective. They spread faster and undetected.
If anything, officials seemed ready to double down on harsh measures. The nature of the current outbreak requires “our prevention and control measures to be earlier, faster, more stringent and effective,” said Li Chenglong, deputy director of the center.
Bi Lin Woo in Taipei and Leerick Lee in Seoul contributed to this report.
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