The delta variant challenges China's costly strategy of isolating cities, warning that Chinese leaders who were confident they could keep the country from spreading the coronavirus needed a less brutal approach.
As the highly contagious option prompts the leaders of the United States, Australia and other countries to renew the restrictions, President Xi Jinping's government is grappling with the worst outbreak since last year's peak in Wuhan. The ruling Communist Party is resurrecting the tactics that shut down China: Access to the 1.5 million city has been closed, flights canceled, and mass surveys have been ordered in some areas.
This "zero-tolerance" strategy of quarantining every case and trying to block new infections from overseas helped contain last year's outbreak and largely rid China of the virus. But its impact on the work and lives of millions of people warns that China needs to learn how to control the virus without constantly stopping the economy and society (Commentary: It is necessary to learn how to do this for every country, not just exclusively for China.).
Zhang Wenhong, a Shanghai-based doctor who gained prominence during the Wuhan outbreak, suggested in a social media post that China's strategy could change. "We will definitely learn more" from the ongoing outbreak, he said, calling it a stress test for the country.
"Mir must learn to coexist with this virus"- wrote Zhang, who has 3 million subscribers on the widely used Sina Weibo platform.
China's controls will be put to the test when thousands of athletes, reporters and others arrive for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. And the ruling party faces a politically sensitive change of leadership at the end of 2022, for which the leaders need favorable economic conditions.
Last year, China shut down much of the world's second-largest economy and cut off almost all access to cities of 60 million, a tactic that governments from Asia to America have been mimicking on a smaller scale. This caused China's worst economic downturn in five decades, but Beijing was able to allow business and domestic travel to resume in March 2020. (Comment: The economic downturn was felt by all countries that introduced tough self-isolation measures, not just China)
New infections, many of which have occurred in people who have already been vaccinatedhave rocked global financial markets, fearing Beijing's retaliation could disrupt production and supply chains. Major stock indices in Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong fell on Tuesday, but rose again on Thursday.
China needs to move towards creating barriers to infection within communities by stepping up vaccination (Commentary: the logic is not entirely clear, if infections occur in already vaccinated people, then how will the increase in vaccination solve this problem?) and quickly treating infected people while allowing them to do business and travel, said Xi Chen, a health economist at the Yale School of Public Health. According to him, the country needs access to a full range of vaccines, including a vaccine developed by the German company BioNTech. (Commentary: Who would doubt that, given what this stakeholder is saying, whose goal is to promote Western vaccines to the Chinese market)
I don't think zero tolerance can be sustainable, "Chen said."Even if you close all regions of China, people can still die, and even more people can die due to hunger or job loss.".
But Beijing is showing no signs of abandoning its tactics.
"Disease control must be" even faster, firmer, more rigorous, broader and more permanent, "He Qinghua, an official with the Bureau of Disease Control of the National Health Commission, said at a press conference on Saturday.
The largest outbreak this year was tentatively tracked by airport staff, health officials said. removed the Russian airliner July 10 in Nanjing, northwest of Shanghai in Jiangsu province.
Some travelers flew through Nanjing to Zhangjiajie, a popular tourist destination southwest of Shanghai in Hunan province, making the city a hub for the virus. The disease has been introduced to Beijing and other cities in more than 10 provinces.
On Tuesday, the Zhangjiajie government announced that no one is allowed to leave the city, echoing control measures introduced last year in Wuhan, where the first cases of the virus were detected, and in other cities.
Flights to Nanjing and Yangzhou, a neighboring city with 94 cases, have been suspended. Trains from these and 21 other cities to Beijing have been canceled. In Jiangsu province, highway checkpoints have been set up to check drivers. The government urged residents of Beijing and the southern province of Guangzhou not to leave these areas if possible
According to Zhou Xiaoxiao, a student at Yangzhou University, children in two tutoring centers were quarantined after a classmate tested positive. She said that some areas of the city were isolated.
Eggs and some other food items were in short supply after shoppers emptied supermarkets ahead of the closureZhou said. She said the government is delivering rice to families.
"The price of vegetables has gone up… For me, this is a trifle. But for a family whose life is not very good and has no income, it is very unpleasant, "said 20-year-old Zhou.
The 1,142 infections reported since mid-July, many of them related to Nanjing, are modest compared to the tens of thousands of new daily infections in India or the United States. But they shocked the leaders of China, which has had no fatalities since early February.
The outbreak poses "a serious threat to the country's victory in the fight against epidemics," said The Global Times, published by the ruling party's People's Daily.
China reported 4,636 deaths out of approximately 93,000 confirmed cases
Most of those infected in Nanjing have been vaccinated so farand only a few cases are severe, Yang Yi, head of the intensive care unit at Southeastern University Hospital in Shanghai, told The Paper.
According to her, this means that "vaccines protect" (?!) - although concerns persist that Chinese-made vaccines provide less protection than some others. (Commentary: These are, of course, "effective vaccines" made by the USA)
The authorities accused the Nanjing airport management and local officials of not following safety rules and not detecting infections for 10 days until July 20, after the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday arrested a 64-year-old woman who is believed to have carried the virus from Nanjing to Yangzhou, on charges of obstructing disease prevention, police said.
The cleaners of the new international terminal in Nanjing mingled with the employees of the inner wing, although they should have been separated, according to news reports. The Russian flight was rerouted due to bad weather from Shanghai, where airports are better equipped to serve foreign travelers.
However, with a population of 9.3 million, the city is the second largest in eastern China after Shanghai and has more resources than many smaller cities.
China needs to learn to "let the virus exist" in areas with high vaccination rates and stronger health care, said economist Chen. He noted that in some areas at least 80% of adults are vaccinated.
“I don’t think they don’t see it,” Chen said. "They should already be thinking about it."
Associated Press correspondent Fu Ting in Bangkok and researchers Chen Xi in Shanghai and Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.