Since October 17, China has reported at least one locally transmitted case everyday, as local outbreaks continue to flare up one after another with increasingly short intermissions.
For more than a year, China has been highly efficient in curbing local outbreaks with mass testing, snap lockdowns, vigilant surveillance and extensive quarantines — all the while keeping the border tightly sealed.
As proof of the success of these measures, not a single Covid-related death has been reported in the country since late January.
More recently, however, authorities have resorted to ever more stringent measures, quarantining not only residents who have been in direct contact with an infected person, but also secondary contacts and people who happen to be in the same general area at about the same time.
These strict measures eventually succeeded in bringing infections in those specific localities down to zero — but not for long.
Over the past week, more than 300 cases have been reported in Inner Mongolia, this time in Manzhouli, a crucial port of entry bordering Russia. The local government imposed a snap lockdown, and the city is currently rolling out a 9th round of mass testing for its more than 150,000 residents — but that still isn’t quick enough in the eyes of higher authorities.
Over the weekend, the city fired two officials for their “slow and weak response” to the outbreak — one for delaying the transfer and quarantine of more than 100 close contacts, and the other for his poor management of quarantine hotels, state media reported. Another four officials were criticized for their lackluster performances.
Local officials across China have been fired or punished for failing to contain Covid flare-ups. The goal to keep infections at zero has placed tremendous pressure on local authorities — often sending them into overdrive in imposing unnecessarily draconian measures, sometimes at the disproportionate expense of disruption of daily lives.
While mainstream Chinese public opinion still appears to support the government’s zero-Covid policy, excessive local measures have sparked discontent and criticism in some regions, such as the southwestern border town of Ruili and the Ili prefecture in Xinjiang.
In addition to Inner Mongolia, cases have been detected over the past week in the country’s largest cities, from Beijing and Shanghai to Guangzhou. The provinces of Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Hebei and Yunnan also reported cases.
It concluded that China should not give up zero-Covid for the time being, until there are “more efficient vaccinations or more specific treatment, preferably the combination of both.”
Over the weekend, Zhong Nanshan, a top Chinese respiratory disease expert and government adviser, proposed two prerequisites for the lifting of the zero-tolerance approach: one is for the fatality rate of Covid-19 to drop to around 0.1%, and the other is for the basic reproduction number of Covid to drop between 1 and 1.5, meaning every infected person will spread the virus to an average of 1 to 1.5 people in a susceptible population.
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